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By TIM MITCHELL
For Rantoul Press
CHAMPAIGN — A national organization has named a Champaign woman as the state’s Mother of Achievement and a Paxton woman as the state’s Mother of the Year.
American Mothers Inc., an interfaith, non-political, non-profit organization dedicated to providing recognition to mothers for their work with their community, announced this week that Gail Rost is this year’s Mother of Achievement for the state of Illinois.
The organization also named Judith Jepsen-Popel of Paxton as the state’s Mother of the Year.
Rost is the executive director of the Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation.
The Mother of Achievement award recognizes women “whose positive influence, talents and community service have made a significant impact in the lives of children and families,” according to Connell Branan, president of American Mothers, Inc.
“Our goal is to recognize and thank moms for the many jobs they do on a daily basis and the significant contributions they are making in the community and our country,” Branan said in a written statement.
Jepsen-Popel was a teacher and principal for 30 years. She taught at Tolono Primary School, St. Malachy School in Rantoul and Ludlow Grade School.
To qualify for the National Mother of the Year award, at least one of the nominee’s children must be over the age of 18.
“Motherhood is important because the family is the foundation of society,” Jepsen-Popel said. “It is very important that we have stable families.”
Jepsen-Popel and her husband, Gary Popel, have three children, Anne Leonard, Therese Wyman and Margaret Seibring. They have eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
She is the president of the Ford County Historical Society and vice-president of the Paxton Foundation, a trust that has raised money for improvements at Majestic Park.
Jepsen-Popel helped found the Paxton Meals on Wheels program, helped organize Paxton’s Old-Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration and serves as director of religious education at St. Mary Catholic Church in Paxton.
When she served as president of the Paxton Woman’s Club, the organization helped to provide a bench for a memorial park and refurbished some historical gates at the Glen Cemetery in Paxton.
This year Jepsen-Popel and her husband helped to raise money to save the Paxton swimming pool.
She has also served on the board of the Paxton Daycare, a community daycare program, since 1980.
Rost said she feels honored to represent Illinois at the national convention.
“They are quite a distinguished group,” she said. “It is an interfaith organization that promotes the value of families and motherhood in our culture.”
What is Jepsen-Popel’s advice for young mothers?
“Enjoy every moment because the time passes quickly,” she said. “When your children are young you sometimes think it will last forever, and it really doesn’t.”
Rost, Jepsen-Popel and the winners from the other 49 states will be honored at a convention at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City in April 2013. At that time the organization will announce the national winners.
Rost said she found out about her state award when she opened her mail Tuesday.
“I received a letter notifying me I had won,” Rost said. “All I could say was, ‘Wow!’”
Rost and her husband, Craig, have three children — Anna Rost, 28; John Rost, 26 and Christopher Rost, 19.
“It is because I became a mother that I was compelled to learn about and commit myself to children’s issues and education in particular,” Rost said. “Most of my adult life has been driven by my experience of being a mother.”
Rost is the current president of the Urbana Rotary Club and former president of the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana.
Under Rost’s leadership, the Urbana Rotary Club has emphasized education for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The club provides clothing and shoes for needy students. It provided support for the Urbana Middle School library and works with the Eastern Illinois Foodbank to provide food for low-income students.
When Rost served as chair of the Junior League’s public affairs committee, she designed a public awareness campaign for children’s abuse and neglect issues.
In addition to Rost’s work as executive director of the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation, she also serves as general manager for the foundation’s I.D.E.A. Store, which she started more than two years ago as a way to provide money for the foundation. I.D.E.A. stands for “Invest. Develop. Elevate. Achieve.”
The I.D.E.A. Store sells reusable materials that can be used for educational or art projects.
“Outreach and education is a primary function of The I.D.E.A. Store, too,” she said.