Jane Hodgkinson graduated in 1971 from Southern Illinois University. She studied under Dr. William Freeberg, the co-creator of the Special Olympics program. "Freebie" as he was affectionately known to his students, had instilled a strong desire to work with people with special needs in the community. She headed the Activity Therapy Department at the St. Louis Geriatrics Center until 1973 when she returned to Southern for her Masters in Recreation. She tought introductory classes for two years and also ran the Southern Illinois Special Olympics program which covered the fifty southern counties in Illinois. "I didn't enjoy teaching very much then because I felt it was more important to be doing than talking about doing".
She left SIU to work for five years with the mentally ill at the Jackson County Mental Health Center, a community alternative to state hospitals. During this time, Illinois Special Olympics formed and she served for six years as a founding board member. "I enjoyed working with the mentally ill until one of my patients stabbed another and I felt a new direction was needed. Something a little less exciting."
Encouraged by fellow classmate and academy member, Kevin Kendrigan, Jane moved to the Chicago area and became the director of a special recreation association. "I was absolutely thrilled to be working in a community setting. We have so much autonomy to make decisions about the type of services that will be offered. It was one of the best decisions of my life." She joined the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association in 1981 as the Director.
WDSRA has twice been recognized as an outstanding agency by winning the National Gold Medal Award in 1982 and 1993. Jane served as the Chairman of the Board of the Illinois Park and Recreation Association in 2004. She received the following awards: DuPage County Outstanding Women Leader- 1987, IPRA Professional Recognition Award-1989, IPRA Fellow Award-1997, Robert Artz Distinguished Service Award- 1998.
"I have been very fortunate in my life to have found a profession that I love and a way to make a difference in people's lives." The association serves over 10,000 people with special need in a thousand annual programs. Jane has two sons, John and Mike and lives with her husband, Patrick Cleary, an attorney in Wheaton, Illinois.
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