GENEVA – Describing him as a “true force of nature” in his unrelenting passion for the environment, the Geneva Chamber of Commerce named Jay Womack as the 2022 Wood Community Service Award Wednesday night at Riverside Banquets in Geneva.
Womack has been chairman of the city’s Natural Resources Committee since 2007, donating thousands of hours to Earth Day, the Fox River Clean Up, removing buckthorn and other invasive plants in the forest preserve and raising money to replace trees lost to the emerald ash borer.
“I’m usually good with surprises and not speechless,” an emotional Womack said after a standing ovation with thunderous applause.
“I love where I live. I love my family and I love what I do. … I want to inspire every one of you to be good stewards of the environment,” Womack said. “And I want to se every one of you at Wine, Cheese and Trees this year.”
The crowd laughed and applauded. Womack was referring to the annual fundraiser Feb. 25, 2023 to replace parkway trees killed by the emerald ash borer.
His wife, Sheree, mother Donna Womack, sisters Kari Harris and Kristi Meyers and brother Tad Womack, all praised him in a follow-up video.
“I have never more surprised in my life,” Womack said later. “I’m speechless. I’m totally speechless and honored and humbled. And I just never do anything expecting a reward because I do it because love it and I love where I live.”
Friends and family described the extent of his community work on the Geneva Park District Foundation, Western Avenue School, Kane County Forest Preserve District, Kane/DuPage Water Conservation District, Conservation Foundation of Kane County, Rain Barrels on Parade Campaign, Treehab Community Action Partnership, Friends of the Chicago River, Chicago Wilderness and the Morton Arboretum.
Womack is also Site Steward for Fabyan Forest Preserve and the Illinois Association of Park Districts named Him Outstanding Citizen Volunteer of the Year in 2019.
In a video leading up to the announcement, friends and family praised Womack and his work for the environment.
Park District Executive Director Sheavoun Lambillotte said she has seen Womack’s devotion to nature as “contagious enthusiasm.”
“This year’s recipient is a true force of nature – literally – doing all he can to save our planet and his contagious enthusiasm for that planet,” Lambillotte said. “Congratulations, my friend. Put your nose down and your glass up. You deserve it.”
Lambillotte said she witnessed first-hand Womack’s energy, commitment and passion for spearheading projects, events and volunteer opportunities “devoted to the sustainability of our community.”
“This person has lived a life devoted to nature, environmental education and conservation,” Lambillotte said. “Our recipient is a true inspiration and respected role model who draws people into his volunteer orbit with a sparkle in his eye and enthusiasm in his smile.”
Lambillotte said there are people who have so much enthusiasm for their cause, that when asked “you simply cannot say no. He is certainly one of those people.”
Lambillotte credited Womack with chairing three volunteer committees raising over $50,000 in sponsorships and donations and attracting 4,000 participants to events and recruiting hundreds of volunteers to provide thousands of hours of service.
Ron Zeman, retired principal of Western Avenue Elementary School, credited Womack with creating the school’s garden “that not only our students and staff but our community enjoys.”
Zeman said Womack “spent countless hours volunteering for our garden,” including making a blueprint for it, getting donations to support it, planting native species himself and helped do a controlled burn of the school’s prairie areas.
Womack provided “countless hours of him coming up to our school because of his love of nature and plants and the environment,” Zeman said.
“Without him, it wouldn’t be here and I just want to say … you deserve this award more than I can say. You have been a wonderful influence on our school and community,” Zeman said. “(He) needs to be remembered for his tireless, tireless effort to help our environment. And the last thing I’m going to tell you is, he’s a Western Avenue grad.”
Retired Geneva Park District director Stephen Persinger credited Womack with using his expertise as a landscape architect to give direction and inspiration to others.
He described Womack as humble “whose efforts are always on moving our community forward, continuing to make Geneva more environmentally aware and sustainable. … so active because of his love for this community.”
“This person is someone you can always count on,” Persinger said.
Bill Doeckel, who serves on the Natural Resources Committee, said Womack’s civic action, leadership and advocacy for sustainability “has really transformed the city.”
“His work put the Natural Resources Committee, the Park District Foundation, being site steward at the Fabyan Forest Preserve really set him apart and has put us on the path to a more sustainable and beautiful Geneva,” Doeckel said.
The Wood Community Service award is presented to someone who made significant community contributions in the areas of business, education, youth involvement, civic organizations, art, recreation, charity or government.
The award is named in honor of Bill and Elise Wood, and Nell and Burton Wood—four individuals who have all contributed to the growth and health of Geneva.