After 16 years as an elected official for the Village of Flossmoor, Trustee Beverly Diane Williams will wrap up her final term this spring.
Williams, 71, who commonly goes by Diane, was first elected as a trustee to the Flossmoor Village Board in April 2005 and has served in that role ever since, winning her seat again in 2009, 2013 and 2017. But she decided not to run again in April 2021, citing health challenges.
“It’s very difficult to leave the role,” Williams said. “But it’s time for me to sit back a bit and enjoy my adult grandchildren while they still want to spend some time with me.”
Williams will leave that post with a sense of accomplishment that she said was earned collectively as a village board. She is particularly proud of Flossmoor’s water main improvement program and economic development that did not sacrifice Flossmoor’s tax dollars. Regarding the latter, she pointed to Meijer coming to town without asking for financial incentives.
“It’s been great to be part of all of that,” she said. “I like the fact that we actually get things done on behalf of the residents of the village. I enjoy the things we accomplished.”
She said the collaborative nature of the board has been critical to its successes. They have all faced the challenge of storm water issues and the difficulty of finding money to address projects in town together. When Williams first joined the board, she said they were relying solely on village money to get things done.
“Over time, we have really instilled a competency in seeking outside money for projects,” Williams said. “I’ve enjoyed the culture of the board. We have a board that does not insist on agreement but is always agreeable.”
When she was first elected trustee in 2005, Williams became the first African American on the Flossmoor Village Board. Though Williams said she has been “a first in a number of arenas,” being a pioneer for board diversity was never her goal. Williams, president emeritus at the Safer Foundation, simply thought she had the experience and knowhow when it came to securing funding to be a benefit to the village she has called home since 1997.
“Running for the very first time was not an issue of race,” Williams said. “All of those things I think made me a good fit for the community.”
From the outset, Williams said the board was receptive to another voice in the discussions.
“I was welcomed by the board,” she said. “The board was open to hearing me.”
Though, at that point, Williams already had the ear of the board. Prior to being elected, she served for four years on the Flossmoor Community Relations Commission. And she chaired the commission’s Flossmoor Festival activities, working on joint projects with the Homewood Community Relations Commission. Williams said she was introduced to the idea of joining the village’s work by Flossmoor’s Diane Kessler.
“Diane, true to her form, had me on the commission before I knew what the commission was,” Williams said with a laugh. “She got people involved.”
Today, Williams says the board is a better reflection of the diverse community it serves. She is hopeful progress will continue to be made, as there is still work to be done. In particular, she would like to see more women-owned and minority-owned businesses involved with the village.
Over the years, Williams also served as the president of the homeowners association for the Ballantrae subdivision, where hers was one of the first families to move into the neighborhood. She holds an undergraduate degree in English and secondary education, as well as an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. She also served on the board of the Safer Foundation for roughly 10 years before joining its staff as president and CEO. The founder of the organization — a not-for-profit that provides services to people with criminal records to improve their socio-economic well-being through employment placement and job readiness training — asked Williams to consider taking the helm. In February 1996, she assumed that role.
Williams, who grew up in Chicago, was elected chairperson of the National Institute of Corrections Advisory Board. In 2008, Safer received the International Corrections and Prison Association’s Offender Management/Treatment and Reintegration Award. During her work with Safer, Williams met not-yet-then President Barack Obama through panels with the Chicago Urban League.
She said Obama was always “very thoughtful.” She continued to have meetings with him after he was elected, and even attended one of the Christmas parties held at the White House. In 2011, Obama bestowed his Champion of Change award upon Williams.
But Williams said as exciting as interacting with the former president has been, it is the support system close to home that has helped her most over the years. The Ballantrae community continued to “flourish” as a distinct community in Flossmoor, and she built long-lasting relationships there. And Williams, now widowed, has a son and daughter-in-law, as well as three “phenomenal” grandchildren.
“They’ve always been very supportive of my job,” she said of her family. “They’ve made the work easier to do and expanded the joy of doing the work.”
Williams said she has no intention of fully stepping away from serving her community, but her future contributions will be as a citizen rather than an elected official. As several positions within the village are to be filled with newcomers, including the role of mayor after Paul Braun also decided not to run for re-election, she hopes those officials will consider the experience of the people around them. She said she also hopes they respect the process of the village’s strategic plan, with the board’s role essentially a strategic one while staff handles operations.
“The new village board members will have work to do,” Williams said.
She said they will be tasked with keeping village services at the level needed while also finding creative ways to fund them. Years ago, Flossmoor may have been alone in those efforts, but that is no longer the case. Today, success requires a wider look at the region, Williams said.
“No village is an island,” she said. “We need to work together, especially in managing large, complex budgets.”
Williams said none of the biggest achievements come easy. But goals are easier to reach when the board and greater community are collaborative. It also helps that those who work on the problems are deeply invested in Flossmoor. That part, Williams said, is a must for her successors.
“They have to love this community,” Williams said. “They can’t just like it.”