Illinois

Secretary of State Jesse White’s decades of service to the community are honored

Outgoing Secretary of State Jesse White was honored and celebrated for his leadership and philanthropy at his eponymous community center in the Near North Side on Saturday, as volunteers distributed winter supplies and White’s tumbling team performed.

White, Illinois’ longest-serving secretary of state, declined to run again this year. His fellow Democrat Alexi Giannoulias will succeed him in January.

Saturday’s event at the Jesse White Community Center, 401 W. Chicago Ave., marked a farewell with Ald. Walter Burnett (27), a protégé of White, praised him for his “many years of service to our community.

“I’m about 60 years old and all my life he’s given back to our community,” Burnett said. “He may end his political career, but fortunately he will continue his humanitarian work.”

People receive free coats during Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White's final public appearance, held Saturday at the Jesse White Community Center in Cabrini-Green.

People receive free coats during Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s final public appearance, held Saturday at the Jesse White Community Center in Cabrini-Green.

As temperatures dropped below freezing, volunteers gave out 500 jackets and 200 pairs of socks. The dresses were donated by Ann Jhin, Chief Executive Officer of Jinny Beauty Supply and a member of the Korean American Friendship Network.

White, 88, has worked with Jhin and the Korean American Friendship Network for 14 years to distribute coats in Chicago during the winter.

Looking back on his career, White noted that he didn’t have the support of the Illinois Democratic Party when he first ran for secretary of state in 1998 — and won.

“I came into an office with a lot of corruption and I worked to clean up the office,” he said.

White said he’s proud of his work, which has improved customer service and streamlined the operations of driver’s license offices, established the first-person consent registry for organ and tissue donation, and worked on road safety with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

White was also recognized for his role as the head coach of the Jesse White Tumblers, which he founded as a positive outlet for inner-city kids. Yvonne Jones, director of programming for the tumbling team, presented a portrait of White, commissioned by artist Nicholas Gore.

“He gave so much to the community in Chicago and Illinois,” Jones said. “Of all its accomplishments, the Jesse White Tumbling Team has been a constant since 1959. So I wanted a play to talk about everything Mr. White has done.”

Secretary of State Jesse White is presented with a portrait of him as Superman.

Secretary of State Jesse White is presented with a portrait of him as Superman.

The painting shows White standing in a Superman pose, unbuttoning a shirt to reveal a T-shirt with the symbol representing the tumbling team.

“Every Tumbler team effort, a Tumbler jumps over the group. This cup is called Superman,” Jones said. “Well, Jesse White has been our Superman since 1959.”

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