URBANA — Habeeb Habeeb, a 55-year-old immigrant from Lebanon, was elected Wednesday night as the party chairman of the Champaign County Republican Party, replacing state Rep. Jason Barickman, R-Champaign, who did not run for another term.
Habeeb was unopposed for the position.
Barickman, who has served as party chairman for six years, last month was nominated to run in a state Senate district that does not include any part of Champaign County. Barickman is planning to move to McLean County later this year.
Habeeb has served as the party's treasurer for the last two years and has been a de facto chairman for much of the last year after Barickman was appointed to the Illinois House and later announced his candidacy for the Senate.
The 59 GOP precinct committeemen at Wednesday's party convention (out of 76 elected last month) also chose Kristin Williamson of Urbana as vice chairman, Ross Richards of Champaign as treasurer and Jim Rusk of Rantoul as secretary.
Habeeb, a partner in Benefit Planning Consultants Inc. in Champaign, arrived in the United States in 1973 at the age of 17 to attend Olivet Nazarene University in Kankakee.
"I wanted to be a doctor and go back. I didn't intend to stay here," he said. "And 16 months afterward a civil war started in Lebanon. I didn't know where my parents were. I didn't have a penny, and I was stuck here.
"I started working at Arby's for a buck-65 an hour. I'm like the great American success story. I didn't know any different. Failure was not an option. I had no choice. I cleaned bathrooms. I did dishes. And I was happy doing it because it was better than the alternative. They were fighting over there."
He met his future wife, Joy, at Olivet, and continued to work for Arby's. The couple moved to Champaign in 1985, he earned an MBA at Eastern Illinois University and they had two children, one of whom has graduated from the University of Illinois and the other is attending Illinois. Habeeb became a United States citizen around 1990, he said.
"That's part of my enthusiam because I just appreciate everything that has happened to me," he said. "We know the alternative so we don't take anything for granted. The good and the bad, it's still good to me."
Barickman said he was "thrilled to see where our party is going. We are a very strong party here locally. You can say what you want about the state party, the national party and otherwise, but I've always felt that here in Champaign County we've got a great organization with great people who do great things."