Highland News Leader

New Douglas swears in first woman village president

June Ridens
June Ridens

For the first time in the 155-year history of New Douglas, a woman will serve as village president.

Longtime resident June Ridens was chosen to succeed Randel “Randy” Winfrey, who announced last month he was stepping down after having served as village president (mayor) since May of 2011.

The Village Board officially voted Ridens, who has served on the Village Board for 18 years, into office on Monday.

Ridens was aware she was making history when she was sworn in, but didn’t think it was all that big of a deal.

“I don’t believe that I’ve ever given much thought to the gender of the mayor,” she said.

Winfrey’s term would have expired in April. However, he recently retired from his career with the state of Illinois and has plans to move to Arkansas and build a home on property he owns there.

Winfey said that his goals as village president were to keep things orderly at board meetings and to create an environment of “positive energy and progress.” Communication between the board and the public was a top priority for him; fairness was his objective, he said.

Winfrey said he appreciates Ridens’ “fairness” and “clear-cut attitude.”

For those reasons, Winfrey said that Ridens was his choice to fill the post. Winfrey also pointed to Ridens’ many years of experience on the board, as well as her history of serving as president pro tempore when he was absent.

Ridens was born in New Douglas and has lived there her whole life, except for a few months after marrying her husband, Charles, and the Army stationed him in El Paso, Texas.

A member of New Douglas Baptist Church, she has helped organized a Christmas food basket program for the needy in the community.

“Our church did it for years, and four or five years ago, we branched out to include the other churches,” she said.

Ridens has also been the driving force to establish a Christian school in New Douglas, an idea that began when Highland School District decided to close its building there.

“It’s still a work in progress. We haven’t started yet,” she said.

Ridens said she loves that New Douglas, population 319, is a small town.

“You tend to know most of the people,” she said.

As village president, she said she wants to develop an atmosphere where people feel a sense of “community” and wants to help “make our town one you can be proud of.”

“I hope I can be effective in promoting community spirit,” she said.

News Leader editor Curt Libbra contributed to this report.

More about Randel Winfrey

Winfrey was born in Paragould, Ark. His family moved to New Douglas in 1969. He worked at Fair Oaks Nursing Home in 1983 as a CNA.

Later that year, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and completed his basic training at Fort Nix, N.J. He was then stationed at Fort Carson, Colo. He was sent overseas and spent four years in Italy. In October of 1990 after the first Dessert Storm, Winfrey retired from the Army.

He took a job at Joliet Correctional Center from 1992-1998. He transferred to Hillsboro, Ill., in October 1998.

In 2008, he ran for the position of village president against George Grindstaff Jr., but lost. The following election year, he ran for a trustee position and was voted in. He was a trustee from 2010-2011. When Grindstaff stepped down, Winfrey was appointed as president. He was elected in his own right in 2012.

His future plans include spending time with his wife, Josephine, children and grandchildren, designing and completing the construction of their future home, and possibly returning to college to obtain his R.N. license.