Longtime high-energy public servant nearing retirement

Longtime high-energy public servant nearing retirement

In Champaign County, the name Schweighart is just about synonymous with public service.

There's Jerry Schweighart, the current mayor of Champaign and a retired Champaign police officer. His brother, John Schweighart Sr., also retired as a Champaign police detective. And John Schweighart Jr. is a sergeant in investigations with the Champaign Police Department.

Perhaps not as well-known to the public but with an equally important government job is Johannah Schweighart.

The wife of John Sr., mother of John Jr. and sister-in-law to Jerry has been described by a former boss as the "hub of the wheel" of the Champaign County state's attorney's office.

"My first impression of Johannah was that this was definitely a high-energy person, which was an important attribute for any secretary hired to work in the state's attorney's office at that time," said Deb Busey, co-administrator for Champaign County and formerly a supervisor in the state's attorney's office. "She is probably one of the most professional and reliable individuals I have ever worked with."

In 1986, Schweighart learned of an opening for a receptionist through her sister-in-law, who was working in the office. Having worked for years in a bank, at a lumber company and as a home day care provider, she had plenty of experience to handle the gamut of calls to the office of the county's top prosecutor.

Within a year, she was promoted to the job she's had for the better part of 20 years, which involves creating new cases and keeping track of them until they're assigned to a prosecutor. She's gone from typing charges with carbon paper to her second generation of computer programs.

Mornings fly by for Schweighart and colleague Chrystal Sullivan, who work as a team preparing cases for arraignment court, held at 1:30 p.m. daily. That's where most defendants make their first appearance before a judge.

When court is over, which can be late afternoon depending on the number of people appearing, the files come back to Schweighart. She sorts them, depending on what the next step in the legal process is, and makes sure the information gets logged into the computer. Attorneys and their secretaries often come to Schweighart to inquire about the location of a file or the status of an arrest warrant.

"She's the kind of person who knows where everything is. You go to her with a question and she doesn't have to look it up. She remembers names and cases," said Julia Rietz, the state's attorney.

Perhaps the reason for that is that, while working, she also raised four children.

"I really think you are more organized because you do have things to do," Schweighart said of working moms. She ran the kids to sports and was a room mother and Boy Scout and Girl Scout leader as she and John raised their family both in Champaign and Tolono.

Married for almost 44 years, Schweighart said she has always worked outside the home not because she craved a fulfilling career but because she loved to work – and eat.

"I just worked because I had to help. Even though John was a police officer, the pay wasn't that great. I helped supplement the income for food and clothes. We had three in braces at once," she said.

And because John's hours were demanding and erratic, she took primary responsibility for the children.

"I can remember coming to work with two kids crying, one mad. You do make it, though. It's a circle. Now they're dealing with it," she laughed.

"They're good kids. I was strict, and they would tell you that. I didn't want them to run the house. I wasn't mean. I was just strict. They all had jobs. It wasn't like I did the housework and cooking by myself."

Her children are John Jr., 43, a Champaign police sergeant; Dennis, 41, who lives in New Mexico and is retired from the Air Force, where he specialized in aviation electronics; daughter Michelle Jolley, 37, who works for the Champaign Police Department as its evidence custodian; and Angela Reinhart, 32, who works at the University of Illinois in human resources.

Among them they have 10 grandchildren who love to visit the home on a lake in Camargo that Johannah and John built in 2001.

They're part of the reason she has decided to join her husband in retirement at the end of the year.

"If somebody needs to be picked up because they need to go to the doctor, we're here," she said. "I can keep working, but this is why you work all those years: to retire.

"There are other things we will be doing. John and I enjoy each other. He's a great husband, and we're great friends. We really still like each other."

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