Sandi Jones has been named the 2014 Athena Award winner.
CHAMPAIGN — Sandi Jones has been a health care executive, online business owner and board member for the Champaign Public Library, the Urban League of Champaign County and the Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company.
Today, she'll add recipient of the 2014 Athena Award to her resume.
The award is presented annually by the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce to someone who helps women reach their leadership potential, demonstrates excellence in business and is dedicated to improving the community's quality of life.
Jones, 63, of Champaign was assistant administrator at Burnham Hospital, where she worked from 1978 to 1989. After Burnham merged with Mercy Hospital to form Covenant Medical Center, she was Covenant's vice president for business and strategic services from 1989 to 2004.
Since then, she's been an entrepreneur, most recently as owner of All Things Illini, an online business that sells all sorts of orange-and-blue items to University of Illinois fans.
But she has also taken an important role in community organizations, stepping in at critical points.
She was appointed to the Champaign Public Library board as it was preparing for construction of a new library; chosen as chair of the Urban League board as it was coping with the loss of a federal grant; and was asked to serve on the Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company board as the organization was, in her words, "on the verge of closing."
In nominating her for the Athena Award, Parkland College President Tom Ramage called Jones "an outstanding thinker, problem solver and advocate for this community."
"She has handled a number of delicate situations with candor and courage, possessing the ability to identify issues (and) clarify strategies to address and resolve them with professionalism and empathy," he said in the nomination.
Jones grew up in Greenwood, Ind., just south of Indianapolis, and attended the University of Evansville before transferring to Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She graduated in 1972 with a bachelor's degree in marketing and journalism.
She then moved to Paducah, Ky., where she attempted to get a job as a newspaper reporter. But she was told the newspaper would hire a woman only as receptionist. So Jones took a job as office manager for a dental office.
She went on to earn a master's degree in marketing and advertising from Murray State University in Kentucky.
When she came to Champaign in 1974, she worked as a substitute teacher and eventually became community educator for the Developmental Services Center.
She then moved to Burnham, first as a marketing assistant, but her duties grew to expand other responsibilities, including helping to establish Pro Ambulance Service. That experience led her to get a degree through the UI's Executive MBA Program.
At Covenant, her responsibilities included the construction of a physicians' office building, a regional cancer center and an energy center, as well as recruiting physicians for the hospital.
Now as the proprietor of All Things Illini, she sells orange-and-blue totes, iPhone and iPad covers, jewelry, stained glass, T-shirts, bracelets and neckties — with many of the items created by UI alums.
"The dog-bone mat is the biggest seller," Jones said.
As a start-up entrepreneur, Jones said she had to learn a lot of things quickly, including credit card processing and inventory management.
"I like to say, 'You don't know what you don't know until you know you don't know it,'" she said.
One thing she still doesn't know: "what to do with old inventory that doesn't sell."
Jones has mentored young people at many levels, including UI students from the College of Business and the College of Applied Health Sciences. She helped create All Girlz Radio, a project that involved 100 junior and senior high school girls.
"If you give middle-school age boys and girls a challenge, they'll rise to it," Jones said. "They'll figure it out and make it happen. Get them involved early."
Her own mentors included past presidents of local hospital auxiliaries — Helen Wikoff, Phyllis Robeson and the late Euline Eilbracht.
Among other things, Jones has been involved in the Executive Club of Champaign County and served as a member of the Digital Equality Initiative board and an Institutional Review Board at the UI.
Jones' husband, John K. Jones, is director of finance at First United Methodist Church in Champaign, where their daughter, MaryBess Gordon, also works.
Jones' son, Brandon Kauffmann, works for Michael's Catering. He and his wife, Lori, have three children — Faith, Justus and Brooklyn — for whom Jones enjoys being a grandmother.
Jones will receive the Athena Award Thursday (Feb. 20) at a luncheon at the Champaign Country Club. She will be the 26th local recipient of the award. Spherion Staffing Services is the corporate underwriter for the awards program.
Sandi Jones is the 26th winner of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce's Athena Award. Past recipients:
2013 Bianca T. Green
2012 Cindy Somers
2011 Lori Gold Patterson
2010 Lynne Barnes
2009 Kathleen Holden
2008 Jane Hays
2007 Donna Greene
2006 Jayne DeLuce
2005 Sue Grey
2004 Beth Katsinas
2003 Diane Friedman
2002 Traci Nally
2001 Lyn Jones
2000 Linda Hamilton
1999 Anita Broeren
1998 Theresa Grentz
1997 Zelema Harris
1996 Shirley Anderson
1995 Mary McGrath
1994 Linda Mills
1993 Jan Kiley
1992 Nanette Fisher
1991 Gloria Dauten
1990 Elizabeth Curzon
1989 Ruth Jones