The leadership of the Friends of the Fox River, including board members and staff, come from a variety of professions, yet are all dedicated to protecting and preserving the Fox River so it can be enjoyed today and for generations to come.

Meet the Board Members

Gary Swick
Gary Swick
President / Educator, FOFR Monitoring Network Director

(Elgin, IL) – I have been a river advocate, whitewater raft guide, and paddler for most of my adult life. As a teacher, I have been using the Fox River as a classroom since joining the Friends in ’91. I am proud to be responsible for over 30,000 students being introduced to their local streams, as
FOFR Watershed Watchdogs.

doug williamson
Doug Williamson
FOFR Vice President

Retired middle school and high school social studies and reading teacher, School district program facilitator, College of education instructor

I grew up in rural Indiana and loved exploring fields and steams throughout my childhood. As a result of early experiences and ongoing informal training with environmental science professionals, I integrated environmental education into my teaching practices

I originally connected with FOFR stream monitoring program in 1990 and began development of cross-curricular history/literature/environmental science programs through the Illinois Rivers Project a year later.

I also worked closely with FOFR founder Pat Reese on the FOFR Board of Directors in 1992-1994 and 1996-2002. I rejoined the FOFR Board in 2018 and now serve as Vice President.

Kyla Jacobsen
Kyla Jacobsen
Treasurer. Recently retired Director of City of Elgin Water Dept.

Kyla Jacobsen (Elgin, IL) is the past Water Director for the city of Elgin. She was with Elgin’s Water Department for 30 years. The Fox River, its water quality and protecting the watershed is very important to her since the city of Elgin uses the Fox River as its primary source for drinking water.

Kyla is also an avid kayaker and cyclist who spends many hours recreating on, and along the Fox River.

Cheryl Crates
Cheryl Crates
Educator, CFO, Adjunct Professor at NIU

I live on the Fox River in Algonquin, IL. and have always been an enthusiastic outdoors person. Conservation is required to keep our river viable and our villages healthy. I serve on the Friends of the Fox River Board to give back to the community I live in.

Art Malm 2012 photo
Art Malm
Registered Professional Engineer

Art is a native of Lombard, IL and a 45 year resident of Elgin with his wife Cathy. He is a graduate of the Cornell University College of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and is a registered Professional Engineer in the State of Illinois.

Art has made water pollution control and public water supply his profession for five decades. His experience includes the design, construction and operation of public water supplies as well as industrial and municipal water pollution control plants.

Art also serves on the Board of Directors of the Fox River Study Group and is a former trustee of the Fox River Water Reclamation District.

Debbie Bertolomi
Debbie Bertolami
Supply Chain Capability & Optimization Supervisor, PepsiCo

Giving back to the community which you live and or work in I feel is important these days. In 2013 I was asked by my daughter Victoria who was affiliated with Friends of the Fox to help out with a dam dinner being thrown to raise funds. And should I say the rest is history, so excited to be part of a group of very passionate folks ready to protect our environment. I am here to do my part for my community!

Pat Okonek
Global Risk Manager, Molex

I’m an avid outdoorsman I have enjoyed fishing, wading, and floating the Fox River for over 30 years. The Fox provides for countless living creatures, including us. The river is always moving, always changing. But the changes haven’t always been good and the Fox River remains vulnerable to careless and even intentional misuse. Advocacy is needed. That’s why I’m a Friend of the Fox River and a board member of the Friends of the Fox River. I want to protect and preserve this priceless living resource and help everyone recognize and appreciate what a precious resource we all have.

Meet the Staff

Gary Mechanic
Executive Director

“I’ve been a paddler since I was a Boy Scout. Paddler’s see the results of all the good and bad decisions made upstream, up close. But I didn’t know what a sick river was until I paddled a healthy river. It changed my life to understand how my community had abused its local river and that I could do things to help make it healthy again.”

Gary completed the Institute for Conservation Leadership’s “Executive Director Development Course” in 1999.

Gary has since worked for the Lake Michigan Federation, helped organize the Des Plaines River Watershed Alliance, founded the Lower Des Plaines Ecosystem Partnership, founded Friends of the Chicago Portage, and worked with Friends of the Chicago River to create and direct the Chicago Flatwater Classic, the first canoe and kayak race on the Chicago River.

LuAnne Lewandowski
LuAnne Lewandowski
Administrative Coordinator

I live approximately 100 feet above the Fox River. I watch its seasons and its ebb and flow. I marvel at its beauty and resilience. I watch bald eagles, geese, hawks, and shorebirds delight above it, around it, and in it. I drag my kayak down the hill to paddle it. I work to protect it with all the energy I have.