Downtown Danville director quitting to go back to school

DANVILLE – Downtown Danville Inc. board members hope to find a new executive director by the first of May, when the current director will leave for graduate school.

Executive Director Rachael Dietkus announced Thursday that her last day with DDI will be May 2, because she has been accepted into the master's degree program in the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois. She will begin classes in June.

Dietkus said she has been thinking about going back to school for quite some time, but the creation of a new special advocacy leadership and social change program in the School of Social Work ultimately convinced her to return.

"It's the perfect match for what I want to do," said Dietkus, who would like to be involved in human rights work once she graduates.

In an announcement to friends and colleagues Thursday, Dietkus said she has enjoyed and appreciated her tenure at DDI.

"I want to thank each of you for the support, guidance, and encouragement you have provided me and the organization during my time here. Even though I will miss DDI and my colleagues, I am very much looking forward to this next chapter in life and new direction for my career," she wrote.

Phearn Butler, president of the DDI board, said Dietkus has been very valuable to DDI, a nonprofit merchants organization dedicated to the development of downtown Danville.

"We hate to see her leave. We wish her well as she pursues her educational endeavors," Butler said.

Butler said an ad hoc committee of the DDI board will be assembled to search for a new executive director. She said there's no timeline yet, but "it would be nice to have someone in place before (Dietkus) leaves."

The DDI board launched a search for an executive director about a year ago. More than a dozen applied for the job at that time. That search ended in May with the hiring of Dietkus, 32, who is a Danville native, Danville High School graduate and 2000 sociology graduate from the UI.

Dietkus replaced former executive director Michelle Blanchard, who moved away in March 2007 after six years with DDI.

Dietkus said there is still a great deal of DDI work to finish before she leaves in May, and she's committed to leaving the organization and its programs and events on solid ground and making a smooth transition for the next director.

Regardless of when a replacement is hired, Dietkus said, everything will be in place for the Summer Sounds concert series and the farmers' market, which both take place downtown during the summer months.

Dietkus was also in the process of taking applications for a part-time office manager for DDI, and she said the position still will be filled.

In the last year, DDI has also taken the lead in getting repairs made to Bresee Tower, the city's tallest building, which is privately owned. Last year, pieces of the facade fell, causing a hazard, and DDI has coordinated the efforts by the city, county and building owner to fund emergency repairs and search for a developer for the 12-story building.

Dietkus, city officials, DDI officials and others met Thursday afternoon with out-of-town individuals interested in developing the historic structure. Dietkus said the meeting went well, and the developers will be back in a month to closely examine the footprint of Bresee Tower and the surrounding space and work on a building plan.

"I have no hesitations about the project moving forward, even if there's not someone in the position before my last day," said Dietkus, who will continue living in Danville while she attends school. "And I'm definitely committed to coming in after that and bringing the new person up to speed."

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