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Rusch named Athena Award winner

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Dr. Sara Rusch, the first female Regional Dean in the University of Illinois College of Medicine system, was named the winner of the 2011 Athena Award presented by the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce.

Rusch was chairwoman of the college's Department of Medicine for 15 years at the College of Medicine in Peoria.

Dr. Sara RuschThe Athena Award, sponsored by Morgan Stanley/Smith Barney, recognizes a woman in the region who shows outstanding achievement in her profession, according to the Chamber of Commerce. The award was presented during the Heartland Partnership's annual meeting and luncheon at the Peoria Civic Center on Monday.

Rusch credited the success of the College of Medicine to the work of many. "I'm proud of our accomplishments, but it is an ongoing group effort," she said after winning the award.

"I chose medicine because I like to learn, to solve problems and to take care of people. I wanted to make a difference in people's lives. Initially I did this through direct patient care and teaching. Now as Regional Dean, I strive to make a broader impact through strengthening the abilities of UICOMP to provide research, education and patient care. Ultimately, my job is still learning, problem solving and caring for patients, just on a different scale. I'm blessed to have an opportunity to do what I love," she said.

Rusch was one of the driving forces behind UICOMP's Cancer Research Center. "Bringing a project like this to fruition demands patient oversight of a myriad of details involving planning. Her patience, stamina, and unflappable demeanor in the face of otherwise overwhelming tasks speak volumes," said her nomination for the Athena Award.

Rusch's community service includes sitting on multiple boards and executive committees, and she has received multiple awards for her work in the medical field, as a teacher, and as a community volunteer.

Several other awards were presented at the meeting, as well, including Outstanding Small Business Awards to area companies recognized for their creativity, integrity and interest in the success of their community.

Running Central of Peoria won for the one to 25 employees category. The store has grown from one full-time and five part-time jobs to seven full-time and 10 part-time positions. Its growth prompted a recent move from Main Street in Peoria to larger quarters in Peoria Heights.

Owner Adam White has remained true to the mission of Running Central by remaining supportive of local road races, high school track and cross-country programs, the Illinois Valley Striders and the prestigious Steamboat Classic. He has also been able to broaden Running Central's its reach to impact individuals of all ages, beginning runners, and non-runners alike and Running Central helped launch a new training program called Access Steam designed to be inclusive for children and adults with cognitive and physical disabilities. White also has donated over 1000 pairs of new shoes to inner-city youth.

Better Banks was named the Outstanding Small Business with 26 to 150 employees.

Better Banks date as far back as 1898 when Dunlap Bank was founded. Growth really took hold in 1957 when B.F. "Chip" Backlund joined Dunlap Bank and saw the ongoing need for locally owned community banks. He acquired Wyoming Bank and Bartonville Bank in the coming years. In 1979, Steve Backlund, youngest son of Chip Backlund, joined the business and expanded it even more by opening multiple branches in the area. In 2004 he saw an opportunity to combine the various branches to create Better Banks. Since then Wyoming Bank and Farmers State Bank of Astoria have joined the company.

The Heartland Partnership's 2011 Community Wealth Award was presented to Prairie State Legal Services.

Sponsored by CEFCU, the Community Wealth Award was established to recognize a non-profit organization that works towards creating a brighter future in our community and makes it a better place to live. Said Jim McConoughey, president of The Heartland Partnership, "The community wealth award does not reflect financial status but instead it rewards an organization that contributes to the wealth of human capital and quality of life for our region."

Prairie State coordinates the delivery of high quality legal services to low income individuals, families and groups. The delivery of legal services will be directed to protecting the client's basic human needs, including income, shelter, and physical safety; enhancing the client's independence; and resolving related legal problems.

Winners of the Economic Development Council for Central Illinois Growth and Innovation Awards also were announced at the meeting. The awards are presented to a Peoria and a Tazewell County company that make significant contributions to area communities and demonstrate success and growth. Recipients are judged on innovative technology, competitive advancement, community leadership, economic diversification and regional expansion.

The 2011 Peoria County award, sponsored by Better Banks, was presented to Presley's Outdoors. Presley's Outdoors is a family owned business that has been in the area for 65 years.

In that time Presley's has grown not only in building size but also in what it offers to the region. Presley's expanded its existing business to a larger 30,000 square foot building located in Bartonville. This new facility offered Presley's three times the space allowing the business to add amenities such as an indoor archery range and more.

Presley's is involved in the community by partnering with Easter Seals and other organizations that promote the great Midwestern outdoors.

The 2011 Tazewell County award, sponsored by PNC Bank, was presented to Millennia Professional Services of Illinois (MPS).

MPS is a Disadvantage Business Enterprise registered with the State of Illinois. It started as a company offering civil engineering services to public and private clients statewide, it expanded in 2005 to add route and land surveying services and again in 2007 with a contracting division. Since inception, MPS has experienced steady growth in employees, revenues and profits.

MPS started by renting a small office in East Peoria and storage space in Spring Bay. The company then purchased its current facility in Morton allowing it bring together operations, increase efficiency and have unlimited growth potential. MPS has been able to hire 10 new full-time positions and retain 10 full-time existing employees.


About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).