Illinois REALTORS® is celebrating Women’s History Month by recognizing the 12 female presidents in the association’s history.

In addition to 2021 President Sue Miller, other history makers include:

  • Loretta Alonzo-Deubel (2012),
  • Sheryl Grider Whitehurst (2011),
  • Kay Wirth (2008),
  • Toni Sherman (2003),
  • Colleen Clavesilla (2001),
  • Judie McConville (2000),
  • Jean Crosby (1999),
  • Carol Shields (1996),
  • Janet Andreotti (1995),
  • Lydia Franz (1984) and
  • Kathryn Duncan (1970).

Eight living past presidents looked back on their tenures and shared some of their observations and experiences.

What advice would you give aspiring leaders?

Grider Whitehurst – Be a student of the industry. Know the laws that govern what we do and the go-to resources to help you grow. Always be a “learner” not “learned!”

McConville – Don’t just “jump in.” Watch and learn from leaders around you. Become active in Illinois REALTORS® committees.

1999 President Jean Crosby


Crosby – My late husband frequently said, “good sailors are not made in calm seas,” and he was right. Rough sea sailors make for exceptional leaders. Those who strive for excellence, accept adversity and embrace difficulty become good leaders. The willingness to endure tough circumstances and find equitable solutions is an ongoing endeavor and not for the faint of heart. However, when one is successful in navigating treacherous waters and victory is within your grasp, it is invigorating. Nothing is quite as sweet as accomplishment and watching a plan come together.

Clavesilla – I actually had no idea what the REALTOR® organization was all about when I entered this career field 38 years ago. I initially had no intentions of being in a leadership role in this industry, but I guess you can say the leaders ahead of me, from my mentor to other active committee and board members, recruited and encouraged me to get involved.

I remember when I was asked by my mentor to go with her to the Education Committee Meeting at our local association. She also insisted that I would also attend Course I, GRI in Peoria even if it meant putting it on my credit card! She strongly believed that being active and getting multiple designations was essential to successfully furthering one’s career.

2001 President Colleen Clavesilla


That was the beginning of my REALTOR® involvement. Involvement just takes baby steps. You can start as a volunteer at your local association and when you are comfortable you can grow into chairing a committee or task force. Don’t forget to get those REALTOR® designations and certifications to enhance your knowledge base.

I enjoyed being involved and continued to broaden my knowledge and obtained multiple designations. As time went on, I had an interview to be a director for the Board of Directors. I was so scared! The interview went fine, and I was approved as a director.

Ultimately my association executive encouraged me to go “up the chairs.” I felt that there was no way I could be a public speaker, but she said I would grow into it over time. Next thing I knew, I was chairing state committees. I knew then that I wanted to be a leader with Illinois REALTORS® in the future.

It has been 20 years since I had the honor and pleasure to serve as the 2001 Illinois REALTORS® president, but it also seems like yesterday. So many people encouraged me to rise higher. I encourage you, even though you might be scared, to take the steps to get involved. As you move through REALTOR® volunteer leadership and education, be sure to encourage those starting out to keep growing as well. We are a REALTOR® family, and the family must mentor and encourage each other while passing the gavel from generation to generation.

What was the best lesson you learned about leadership during your tenure as state association president?

Grider Whitehurst – That leadership is all about creating a cohesive team versus me being the “leader.” The four members of our team are still very close and get together on a regular basis.

McConville – To always remember those who helped you along the way. Be a president for all the members, always. Listen to your members; listen to staff.

Loretta Alonzo-Deubel


Alonzo-Deubel – The best lesson I learned about leadership is that as a leader you need to listen and be inclusive to members’ ideas.

A president’s responsibility is to support your team and listen to the members. The members want to know that their voices are important and will help leadership come to decisions that will benefit the members. Sometimes, difficult decisions will have to be made that are not always popular. But if members are given the opportunity to express their views and the president can incorporate them into her decisions, members will accept them.

1995 President Janet Andreotti


Andreotti – The Dalai Lama said, “When you speak, you repeat what you know. When you listen, you learn something new.”

I found before making decisions that affect the local associations and the leadership team, I needed to reach out to them for feedback. You cannot satisfy all the people all the time but if the members truly believe you listened to their concerns and their input, they will more readily trust you and the decisions you make.

When you take the time to listen, whether at a meeting or a social gathering with your members, they can relate and connect to you. As a result, they will feel they have been heard and trust your decisions.

Crosby – Inclusiveness and collaboration are key to effective leadership.

All enjoy the fact they are respected and valued; volunteers are no different. Our volunteers who push the association’s agenda into the open arena and who are responsible to carry the message forward must be part and parcel with its creation. Their vision, viewpoints and debate are vital to the overall achievements and greater good of the organization. Inclusiveness and collaboration are key to the association’s volunteer partnership with the members. It sustains our unified ambitions in an ever-changing industry.

2008 President Kay Wirth


Wirth – Serving as the Illinois REALTORS® state president was such an amazing experience for me and taught me many lessons along the way. Thinking back, I would have to say that learning how our association and government work together was the greatest lesson. I carry those lessons with me even today.

The one lesson that had the biggest impact on me, then and now, was learning and better understanding the political arena. It was such a privilege to meet our representatives from around the state and in Washington, D.C. Personally, meeting Barack Obama was a highlight. Knowing that our state association makes private property rights its top priority reinforces my support for RPAC. Having the opportunity to work with the leadership team and be a part of something so important to REALTORS® will stay with me for a lifetime.

No matter what side of the aisle you sit on, I learned Illinois REALTORS® can look beyond the present day and think through the issues that will have the biggest impact on our future business. Being the 2008 state president was a great honor.

Did a hobby or outside activity help you serve the community and better connect with your market?

Crosby – Growing up, I was fortunate to have parents who fanned my equestrian interests. Learning the fine points of the hunt seat, tending my own horse and competing in the show ring instilled in me self-accountability. The moment I understood that my true competition was myself and not the other participants in the ring, a whole new lens opened to me within the competitive horse world. Each blue ribbon I accepted became the evidence that self-accountability should never be underestimated. It is what makes victors and success stories.

McConville – I co-chaired the drive to pass a referendum to build a new grade school in Ottawa after we lost the original one to a flood in 2008. We held a lot of meetings, and I even carried 400 letters to Sen. Dick Durbin written by the children asking his help in getting funding. He came through for us and we built the school. The taxpayers passed the referendum almost unanimously.

I also chaired a Kiwanis committee to build a park where one of the former grade schools stood. I sold trees and benches to donors. Families use it a lot, and I’m quite proud of it.

Past President Sheryl Grider Whitehurst enjoys golf.

Golf is a hobby that helps Illinois REALTORS 2011 President Sheryl Grider Whitehurst meet people and make friends.

Grider Whitehurst – My involvement with the Center for Prevention of Abuse helped me in several ways.

I learned about the needs of the less fortunate. I learned about issues I wasn’t even aware of, such as human trafficking. It is amazing that in our society that human trafficking is an issue. I serve on the Center for Prevention of Abuse’s marketing committee and volunteer for their largest fundraiser.

McConville – Being involved is one of the most important things a real estate broker can do.

Sherman – As a young mother, I was all-in on volunteering at my daughter’s school. Something new to me. I served as room mother from kindergarten through 6th grade. I helped in the Learning Center, never missed a field trip in seven years and was certified to lead the Newberry Library Reading Program for the entire school. In addition, I started the first Brownie troop the school had for that age group and taught CCD for Communion classes. In other words, I was an overbearing, helicopter mom. But I loved it!

When my daughter entered junior high, I was left with no outlet for all my volunteer energy and had no real identity past “Christina’s Mom.” That was when I turned my energy to improving myself and learning new skills and techniques to enhance my selling ability.

My first CRS class on time management ignited a passion for more education, skills and techniques to serve my clients in the most professional way. Those first classes turned into 25+ years of volunteering and ultimately becoming the 1999 National CRS president. To serve on committees with top agents from every state in the union and the brightest instructors in the industry broadened my perspective in many ways and enhanced my professional and interpersonal skills.

Through volunteer activities at the national CRS level, my local association, the state association and the National Association of REALTORS®, I was able to see change coming months, if not years, ahead of some of my fellow agents, who were often broadsided by drastic change at the Monday morning meetings. They were told to adapt and start doing business in a very different manner than they had for years.

Volunteering gave me a voice to affect change in the industry and talk one-on-one with state and federal lawmakers.

Being active also provided a plethora of national and international referrals. I even received a referral from my board president because she didn’t feel comfortable taking a listing out of her area of expertise.

My volunteering also led to a ‘real job’ as we REALTORS® like to call them. In the course of serving as president-elect of CRS – now known as The Residential Real Estate Council (RRC) – I was asked by my fellow officers to fill the newly created position of Director of Business Development and Relations. They thought I would be perfect for the role, as they were looking for “someone who had a proven track record of sales, knew the industry and its key players and understood firsthand the value and benefits that came from taking the courses and earning the designation.”

Those words still echo in my brain. After much deliberation, I accepted the job. I thought it would be for a year while I set up procedures for existing staff and created solid relationships with company presidents, CEOs and educational vice presidents. That job lasted for 16 years, much to my surprise!

REALTOR Toni Sherman (right) and daughter Christina Skoumal

REALTOR Toni Sherman (right) and daughter Christina Skoumal.

During my career with RRC, I expanded the original role of creating relationships with companies and franchises to providing courses internationally. When I left, we were teaching in 13 countries with a few more in the pipeline. The experience broadened my horizons and gave me opportunities to learn from my counterparts in Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Italy and France to name a few.

All levels of my volunteer career blessed me with lifelong friendships and meaningful relationships with both leaders in the industry and staff at all levels.

So, thank you to my daughter, Christina. Through her I got my first experience in getting involved, not just by dipping my toe in the water, but jumping in with both feet!