Illinois Lt. Governor Simon chairs first meeting of revamped Rural Affairs Council


Welcomes six citizen members and the Illinois Farm Bureau


Springfield, IL – Illinois’ only constitutional officer from southern Illinois, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon welcomed seven new members of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council today, enlisting their help in her bid to grow the Illinois local food economy and expand emergency response services for rural citizens.

The 25-member council, which Lt. Governor Simon chairs, was re-launched this year by executive order and includes six new citizen members and a representative from the Illinois Farm Bureau in addition to representatives from various state agencies, institutions and organizations.

The volunteer membership reflects a new focus on developing markets for local foods, improving emergency services in rural areas, and other emerging rural issues. The Lt. Governor also announced that subcommittees will be created to work on local food and EMS issues. 

“I am excited to begin the work of the Rural Affairs Council with its expanded membership that lends a grassroots voice to rural issues in Illinois,” Lt. Governor Simon said. “Our new membership has a diverse background of experience that will help forward my agenda of making fresh local food accessible to all Illinois citizens and improving the delivery of emergency services to rural Illinois residents.”

The Illinois Farm Bureau, which has never had a seat on the council since it was founded in 1986, will be represented by District 14 Director Steve Hosselton of Louisville. The council’s citizen members include Dr. Leslie Duram of Carbondale, Heather Hampton-Knodle of Hillsboro, Porter McNeil of Moline, Robin Rose of Gibson City, Mark Rothert of Canton and Greg Scott of Bloomington.

The Lt. Governor stressed the importance of local foods in creating a health economy and healthy citizens, a message she brought to Bloomington at a recent local foods summit. Simon pledged to seek funding sources to help more farmers markets purchase wireless LINK debit card machines. Though food stamp usage is up 269 percent at farmers markets, just 49 farmers markets and direct marketing farmers currently accept LINK, a fraction of the over 300 farmers markets and direct marketing farmers in Illinois.

Simon began the meeting at Lincoln Land Community College by providing an overview of the history of the council, which recognizes its 25th anniversary this year. Simon also honored Dr. Norman Walzer, a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University for his work in helping develop the council and founding the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University in 1989.

Volunteer Citizen Members

Dr. Leslie Duram, a Fulbright Scholar, is the chair of the Geography and Environmental Resources Department at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and served on the Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force in 2008. Duram has written extensively about organic farming and the benefits of increasing access to fresh local food.

Heather Hampton-Knodle is the Chairman of the Central Illinois Economic Development Authority and has experience managing or working for various organizations dedicated to agriculture and rural development. Hampton-Knodle also farms with her husband Brian.  

Porter McNeil is the president of public relations firm McNeil Communications in Moline. McNeil has done communications work for non-profit organizations focused on regional economic development. McNeil also helped craft communications strategies promoting development of the new WIU-QC Riverfront Campus and Mississippi River Technology Corridor.

Robin Rose is the Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Operating Officer of Gibson Area Hospital and Health Services in Gibson City. In 2010 Robin received the National Rural Healthcare Association’s Louis Gorin Award for her achievements and contributions to rural health care.

Mark Rothert is the Executive Director of the Spoon River Partnership for Economic Development in Canton. His efforts span the scope of business development and attraction, community marketing, tourism, and downtown revitalization. Rothert has been responsible for creation of Canton Main Street, completion of the Canton comprehensive plan, and securing nearly $5 million in federal and state grants for Canton.

Gregory Scott is the Director of the McLean County Area EMS System in Bloomington and has been involved in emergency medical services for 25 years. Scott’s duties in emergency medical services have ranged from front-line patient care to administrative. Scott is co-chair of the Illinois EMS Advisory Council’s Rural EMS Recruitment/Retention committee.

The next meeting of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council will be held on Wednesday, October 19. Check the Lt. Governor’s Rural Affairs webpage at for updates on meeting time and location.