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'I loved being there': DeKalb County Circuit Clerk Maureen Josh retires after nearly 4 decades in office

SYCAMORE – When Maureen Josh first ran for elected office in 1984, there was no such thing as social media.

That made campaigning, Josh said, more of a human-to-human interaction. She was 37 when she first ran for DeKalb County Circuit Clerk, and left her job as a school teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and then Creston to move to Sycamore with her husband and four children. Together as a family, they walked door to door campaigning, marching in local parades, attending local events to get the word out.

Now, Josh is 72 (“People who retire in their 50s make me crazy,” she said), and retired Tuesday after nearly four decades in office. Her last act was to swear in newcomer and fellow Republican Lori Grubbs, who has worked in Josh’s office for 26 years.

“Everyday when I walked in there, I loved being there,” Josh said, who throughout her interview express deep gratitude to DeKalb County voters for her rewarding career in public office. “I felt the work that we did was really important, that we made a difference. What more could I ask for?”

In February of 1981, Josh took a part-time position at the DeKalb County Courthouse in the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s office which ended up becoming full-time. T. Jordan Gallagher was in his last year as state’s attorney who later served as a judge in Kane County though died in 2011. Josh worked as a front desk receptionist, and said it’s due to the character of those who also work in the building that she decided to seek the clerk’s seat.

“The main reason people like to go to work if they like their job is the people they work with. The most wonderful part of my job is that you really have an opportunity to help people,” she said. “That’s a great thing. There’s a lot of things you can do to make people feel comfortable in the court system.”

The circuit clerk at the time was Norma Hudson, and – much like Josh’s departure gave way to Grubbs’ successful run for clerk – Hudson decided to retire, which left Josh with an opportunity.

“My husband and I talked about it, and then I ran for election,” she said. “It was never an aspiration of mine. I knew nothing about politics, about running for office. I knew the courthouse but not the Circuit Clerk’s office.”

Unlike an Orwellian dystopia, 1984 for the Josh family was filled with two elections and months of campaigning.

“We did a lot of door-to-door,” she said. “We had lots of wonderful friends, my children, my childrens’ friends. Door to door every weekend because I still worked. Service club dinners, pancake breakfasts, rotary clubs and Kiwanis. Any opportunity you could to speak. They didn’t have a lot of forums at the time but you would go to fairs, city festivals, take your literature and walk in parades.”

Josh won the Republican primary in April of that year and sailed to her first victory in the November 1984 election. Did she ever expect she’d still be here, 36 years and nine terms later?

“No, I didn’t,” Josh said. “I know everyone warns you about how fast time goes, but until it’s your life you don’t notice.”

Her children with husband Russ Josh, 74, are all grown up now – Katie and Ron Fox, Maggie and Joel Peck, Sarah and Jeremy Alexander, Daniel and Karyn Josh – and she’s got 13 grandchildren.

They continued to help her campaign throughout her decades, though (“I don’t know that enjoy would be the word,” she said wryly when asked whether her kids liked coming along for the ride.)

“But it was a family affair from the beginning,” she said. “They supported me always. This was something that was important to our family. They grew up with it and the expectation that this would be part of their life as well. I’ve been very lucky to have such an incredible force behind me.”

It’s not just the technology component of the Circuit Clerk’s office – largely responsible for administrative duties, record keeping and being the public face of the courthouse to ensure residents know their in’s and out’s of the system – that’s changed in the past 36 years.

The courthouse was remodeled twice in Josh’s time: once from 1984 to 1986 when the Legislative Center and Administration Building were built across the street in Sycamore which left the courthouse with just court-related offices instead of county government. And another in 2012 when the courthouse was expanded, doubling in size with a new north side.

Over the years, Josh’s office has hired many high school and college students, who’ve stayed on after graduation, dedicating their careers to her office. It’s the people that made the experience what it was, she said.

“You develop really close personal relationships there,” Josh said. “You’re dealing with people’s lives. And some of it’s very sad, some very different. We’re not the judge, we’re not the jury. We’re just the people helping people through the system.”

She acknowledged much has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, including digitizing communication even further, moving things online and holding virtual court sessions.

“It’s very unusual,” Josh said. “But that speaks to the strength of the staff of the courthouse. Rick Amato is an outstanding State’s Attorney, he’s been a huge leader here. We’ve met as a team. I’m really proud of how we’ve handled this.”

Amato returned Josh’s sentiment.

“Maureen’s been a tremendous leader in our courthouse,” Amato said Tuesday. “And she is a great role model to many. The office she ran was exemplary. You could compare it side-by-side to any circuit clerk’s office in the Chicago metropolitan region, and they simply are one of the best.”

As for the future? Josh said she’s just “looking forward to the end of the pandemic.”

“And then I can think about making plans.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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