2023 Board Member Bios

Board members are listed in alphabetical order.

Jason Akst

Jason Akst is NINA’s executive secretary. He’s an award-winning journalist and public relations practitioner with more than 30 years of professional and academic experience. 

In 2016, he won the University’s Excellence in Undergraduate Instruction award, the top teaching award for Instructors at NIU. He is executive secretary of NINA and Grievance Officer for the NIU Chapter of the University Professionals of Illinois.

He is a member of NINA, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Public Relations Society of America. He has a master’s degree in journalism from The University of Texas at Austin, and a bachelor’s degree in English from West Texas A&M University.

He joined NIU in 2000 and in addition to teaching courses in journalism and public relations, he is a working journalist and freelance writer.

Sharon Boehlefeld

Sharon Boehlefeld has been involved with community and niche newspapers all her life, most of it as an editor. But her first full time newspaper job was as a typesetter while she finished college.

She earned a BA in journalism at Northern Illinois University, where she eventually taught journalism classes while pursuing a master’s degree in sociology. She did additional graduate work in and taught sociology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

She has won awards, both national and regional, for her writing, photography and design work. She has been a conference speaker on a variety of topics, including alternative story forms and using statistics in the news. She continues to contribute occasional features.

A past-president of NINA, she serves on the Outreach Committee.

Dan Campana

Dan Campana is NINA’s treasurer.

He spent nearly a decade at the Daily Chronicle, Kane County Chronicle and Aurora Beacon-News as a reporter and editor before freelancing for seven years with a variety of news publications and magazines

 He is currently the director of communications with the Emergency Nurses Association, where he started as the assistant editor for its member magazine in 2017.

Campana also co-authored two books on the Cubs and Wrigley Field. He served as NINA president in 2021 and is in his second year as NINA treasurer.

Mary Helt Gavin

Mary Helt Gavin is one of the founders of the Evanston RoundTable, a free paper in Evanston that began as print only, added a website then converted to an online-only site. 

As publisher and manager of the RoundTable, she received the Studs Terkel award from the Community Media Workshop (now Public Narrative) and the Evanston Chamber of Commerce Small Businessperson of the Year award; and shared a Lisagor Award with five colleagues for having the best community newspaper website in 2020. 

She helped with the transition of Evanston RoundTable LLC to the nonprofit Evanston RoundTable Media NFP, to which she still contributes and edits stories. She and several RoundTable colleagues recently completed a book, “Encountering Evanston History.” 

Shelley Hendricks

Shelley Hendricks is NINA’s communications coordinator. She advises the student journalists at the Northern Star – Northern Illinois University’s student media — on all aspects of producing a news publication. This includes writing, reporting, source relations, editing, design, multiple-platform storytelling, industry trends, leadership skills and time management. She joined NIU in 2012. In 2023 The Northern Star was awarded first place for general excellence (print) by the Illinois College Press Association.

Shelley holds several board positions in addition to communications coordinator for Northern Illinois News Association. She is president of the Illinois College Press Association and sits on the boards of the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors, Northern Star Publication Board and Northern Star Alumni Board.

She worked at the Rockford Register Star, where she held various editing positions for almost 15 years.

Megan Jones

Megan Jones covers crime and its impact in Aurora for the Beacon-News and neighboring suburbs of Kane and Kendall counties. She has covered a multitude of topics and breaking news events from being the first reporter on the scene of a warehouse shooting that left five employees dead in Aurora to covering destructive protests in the city’s downtown in the wake of George Floyd’s death. 

She watched a community’s hopes rise over the possible resurfacing of a long-missing boy, only to see those hopes dashed when his identification was found to be a hoax. She found the victim of a now-known serial killer and uncovered her story, which police didn’t take seriously in 1979. 

Before joining the Beacon in 2018, Meagan covered city government at the Northwest Herald and studied journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She served as editor-in-chief her junior year for the university’s independent student newspaper, The Daily Illini. 

She has written and interned for various suburban newspapers including the Lake County News-Sun, Daily Herald and the Journal-Topics newspapers. 

Cristi Kempf

Cristi Kempf is NINA’s current first vice president.

She began her journalism career in the Chicago area, working in the vibrant community newspaper scene before heading off to join the staff at a daily, first at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and then at the Milwaukee Journal. She returned to Chicago to work at the Sun-Times, where her roles ranged from copy editor to features editor. 

Adventure led her to Rome where she lived for five years while writing speeches for political leaders, reporting news for Vatican Radio, translating for touring rock bands and working as editor-in-chief for a tech magazine published in three languages. When she returned to the United States, she took a job at the Chicago Tribune, where she held a variety of positions including associate managing editor of editing and presentation.

She’s currently a consultant with M. Harris & Co., a creative and marketing firm in Chicago. Her clients include the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, digital manufacturing institute MxD and the Rocky Mountain Institute.

A graduate of Drake University, Cristi chairs NINA’s Contest Committee.

Jim Killam

Jim Killam is currently NNA’s second vice president. He rejoined the NINA board in December 2022 after an 11-year absence. He chairs the Education & Training Committee. 

Jim is managing editor for the Wycliffe Global Alliance, a group of 110 ministry organizations on six continents. In this role, he provides journalism and media training and also reports stories internationally.

From 1995 to 2012, Killam was adviser for the Northern Star at NIU and served as NINA’s communications coordinator. He and his wife, Lauren, live in Rockford.

Madhu Krishnamurthy

Madhu Krishnamurthy is diversity editor and assistant city editor for the Daily Herald. 

Previously she was an education writer, covering suburban K-12 school districts, community colleges and universities. In her 22 years with the Daily Herald, she has covered stories on a variety of issues and topics, including human interest, local government, health, politics, religion and diversity. 

Krishnamurthy chairs the Editorial Diversity Committee, whose goals are to broaden employees’ understanding of the various cultures reflect the diversity of the communities the Daily Herald Media Group serves. She has done extensive work covering issues facing the Muslim, Arab, Black, Latino and Hindu communities in the suburbs. 

Krishnamurthy is past president of the Chicago Headline Club, the largest chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an adjunct faculty member of Columbia College Chicago

 She received the University of Central Oklahoma’s 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award.

John Lampinen

John Lampinen, current board president, has been on the NINA Board for three years.  He retired a year ago after 20 years as editor and senior vice president of the Arlington Heights-based Daily Herald and 48 years with the news organization and continues to serve on the newspaper’s Editorial Board and to do consulting work for the company. 

A lifelong resident of the Chicago suburbs, he also is a board member of the Associated Press Media Editors and oversaw an adjunct advisory committee providing feedback on the development of the Illinois Press Association’s Capitol News Illinois operation. 

At one time, he also served as an adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

Julie Mann

Julie Mann is the public information officer for Kane County government. She has worked over three decades as an award-winning journalist in the city of Chicago and suburbs as an anchor and managing editor of WBBM Newsradio. 

In 2021, she accepted her position with Kane Country Government, where she serves as liaison for local and national media on behalf of the county and promotes awareness of the county’s mission programs, policies and initiatives.  

She is a graduate of Drake University and St. Charles High School, where she was honored as Alumni of the Year in 2015. She was named one of the 10 Most Powerful Women in Chicago Journalism in 2014, 2017, and 2019.

Margarita Mendoza

Margarita Mendoza is an award-winning editor of El Observador, a Spanish language publication from the Catholic Diocese of Rockford. She joined to the staff of the diocese’ Office of Communications and Publications in 2013, where she is responsible for translating documents from English to and Spanish to English.

She also assists the director of communication with media relations, outreach through the diocesan newspaper, radio and television and social media throughout the diocese.

In 2012 she launched and has directed the Latino Film Festival Elgin. Later, she started the Latino Film Festival Aurora. She is featured in the book series “Today’s Inspired Latina,” by Jackie Camacho-Ruiz. Margarita is a native of Cali, Colombia.

She earned an undergraduate degree in social communication and journalism and a graduate degree in organizational communication, and she also has a diploma in political science at Universidad Autónoma de Occidente in Cali.

Rick Nagel

Rick Nagel is a long-time (read “old”) Chicago-area journalist and former “govie” who is now enjoying retirement. 

He has held many highfalutin titles: managing editor of Press-Republican Newspapers, editor in chief of Press Publications, editor-publisher of The Beacon-News, and vice president of editorial of Sun-Times News Media, to name a few.

Nagel was one of the first Midwest editors of AOL’s Patch and served as outreach coordinator for Kane County, IL, where he created Kane County Connects. He chairs NINA’s Outreach Committee.

Kelsey Rettke

Kelsey Rettke has been the Editor of the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb since March 2020.

During her first year as editor, the Daily Chronicle was recognized by the Illinois Press Association as best small daily newspaper in Illinois.

She’s been with Shaw Local News Network since 2018, and previously worked as a reporter covering city government, crime and courts, education and breaking news in DeKalb County. Her work has been recognized by the Illinois Press Association, the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors and the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association. She is a graduate of Beloit College.

Roger Ruthhart

Roger Ruthhart is the retired editor of The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus daily newspapers in the Quad-Cities and has won many regional, state and national awards. 

His career started in Lake County with Lakeland Newspapers, where he was managing editor of 15 papers and twice won the IPA award as the Best Weekly in Illinois.

His paper in the Quad-Cities twice won second place in the IPA General Excellence category among large dailies behind the Chicago Tribune and won the General Excellence award for daily papers from NINA for seven straight years.

He has served on the NINA board since 1986 including several terms as president. He was on the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors board almost as long and was honored as a member of the Lincoln League of Journalists. He also chaired a training committee for the Illinois Press Assn. and was a founding member of the Downtown Rock Island Arts & Entertainment District. 

He is the author of the book “Citadel of Sin: The John Looney Story” about the infamous 1920s gangster. He is a native of Barrington, IL, has a journalism degree from Bradley University and lives in Rock Island.

For the board members who didn’t work with him before he retired, the better-known family member might be his son, Bill, former political reporter for the Chicago Tribune, now at the New York Times. 

Pat Szpekowski

Pat Szpekowski, APR, immediate past president of NINA, is an award-winning freelance writer and president of PR Strategies & Communications, Inc./PmS advertising, inc. in Elgin, IL, which she founded in 1987. 

She is an award-winning accredited public relations professional and national/international freelance writer whose stories and business profiles have been published in newspapers and local, regional and national magazines, including Air Chicago, #Fly Washington, Northwest Quarterly, Smart Living, and various Shaw Media publications. She is a regular correspondent for The Observer, the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Rockford. 

Her strong community involvement has earned her a number of recognitions, including the Elgin Community College – Community Lasting Impact Award; Elgin YWCA Leader Luncheon Award-Communications; State of Illinois Reaches Out Award; among others.  

She is chairman of the Ascension Saint Joseph Hospital Elgin – Community Leadership Board, a position she has held for the past 10 years. 

Penny Wiegert

Penny Wiegert began working as a journalist in high school, for a group of weeklies and continued while studying Interpersonal Communication at Northeast Missouri State University. In 1986 she was hired by the Diocese of Rockford to work for The Observer

Catholic newspaper on a part-time basis.

In 1989 she was named associate editor and became editor in 2002. In 2006, Bishop Thomas G. Doran appointed her director of communications, the first woman in diocesan history to hold either post. She coordinates all media efforts for the Rockford Diocese including the weekly TV Mass and Top of The Morning daily reflections on NBC, directs diocesan social media efforts

and web content in two languages, produces the diocesan directory and The Observer and El Observador Catholic newspapers.

She was also editor of “Our History”, the 2008 Diocesan Centennial History Book. She has always been active in the Catholic Press Association for the United States and Canada (now the Catholic Media Assoc.) as its Midwest Regional representative, vice-president and president and currently serves on its national conference planning committee. 

She has served on the Communication Committee for the United States

Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

Along with winning more than 30 local and national journalism awards, in 2011 she was awarded the Benemerenti Medal for service to the Catholic church by Pope Benedict XVI.

She is past president and board member of the of the Northern Illinois News Association. She is also a founder of Byron Civic Theatre and former board member and currently chairs the Programming and Events committee of Pec Playhouse.