Zion-Benton News

Remembering Village Clerk Jana Lee in Winthrop Harbor

By Meridith Jumisko
Zion-Benton News staff

There's an empty seat at the Winthrop Harbor Village Hall that will be hard to fill. On July 12, the village lost its Village Clerk, Director of Administration, Human Resources Director, and Collector. Jana Lee passed away - one day shy of her 53rd birthday - after a courageous battle with cancer. Funeral services were held on July 16. Her faith and her family were near and dear to her, and for those who knew her, she will never be forgotten.

Lee's career with the Village of Winthrop Harbor began when she was hired in June of 1994. She was first appointed to the position of Village Clerk on January 5, 1999, and was elected and then re-elected for each term that followed.

"She was a wonderful boss and friend to all of us in the office. She always took great care of her employees and we looked out for her too. We are going to miss her terribly," shares Julie Rittenhouse, an Administrative Assistant at Village Hall. She's also been serving as the Deputy Clerk under Lee, and was appointed as Interim Clerk at Tuesday's regular village board meeting.

Richard Robards has been a village trustee since 1999. He considered Lee a friend, whom he saw about once or twice a week. He shares: "She had a great sense of humor.
She was someone who you could talk to and bounce ideas off of about the village. She always told me what she thought and not what I wanted to hear. She will be missed."
"First and foremost, she was such an advocate for the village. She loved Winthrop Harbor and was one of the kindest people I have ever met," shares Tim Neargarder, Public Works Superintendent and a former trustee. "She was respected by everyone and it was well deserved. As a coworker, she was always willing to work together and make things as efficient as possible. She truly was a friend and always had time to listen. …
She will be truly missed and the village staff will be tested of our resolve for months ahead, but she has made working for the village like a family and we will all come together to make her proud."

"Jana was a caring soul, a thoughtful soul," says Mike Bitton, Lee's boyfriend and colleague. Commander Bitton is the Director of Police Administration and the IT Director of the village. "She really brought happiness to people." He says she leaves big shoes to fill, and leaves "a big hole in village administration."

She was "a person of the highest level of integrity that you can imagine. Her honesty, her integrity all came from that foundation of her faith which was unwavering. She simply did - always - what was right for the village. She cared for the village. … It's a big loss, big loss for our village," Bitton says.

"She really was the glue … that held together the staff at Village Hall; she was their leader," Bitton says. Accuracy was important to her. As was taking care of the residents. She "truly took to heart the concerns of village residents that called her." She thought if something was important to that person, then it should be important to the staff. That was her approach - and that same approach is being followed by the rest of the staff. So while she is gone, he says she is "still here in that regard".

Lee was instrumental in creating the park north of the fire station, and for many years she was the one that took care of the flowers there, according to Bitton. She was also responsible for decorating the lobby at Village Hall. Bitton says she decorated her home for every holiday, but Christmas was her favorite. Her home was a Christmas wonderland, and that carried over to Village Hall. She decorated because "it made her happy. More importantly, it made others happy," he says.

Lisa Shaw, the village's Finance Director, was Lee's best friend. She shares: "I had the privilege of working with our Village Clerk, Jana J. Lee, for the past 19 years. Not only were we co-workers, but best friends for the past 48 years. Her love and loyalty to the village ran deep. Everywhere you look whether in the park by the Village Hall … or in the building, you can see her touch as she loved to decorate and beautify the area. She will be missed more than words can describe."

At Tuesday's board meeting, a bouquet of flowers sat beside Lee's nameplate, behind the trustees. The room observed a moment of silence in her memory, followed by the trustees sharing their thoughts and condolences to Lee's family. Mayor Robert Loy said, "We lost a genuinely good person. It's a tragedy. … She was the best; a very special person."