Secretary of State Jesse White honored for decades of community service

“He may be sunsetting his political career, but he thankfully will be continuing his humanitarian work,” Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said during a sendoff Saturday at White’s namesake community center on the Near North Side.

SHARE Secretary of State Jesse White honored for decades of community service
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White kneels as the Jesse White Tumbling Team performs during White’s last public appearance in office, held Saturday at the Jesse White Community Center on the Near North Side.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White kneels as the Jesse White Tumbling Team performs during White’s last public appearance in office, held Saturday at the Jesse White Community Center on the Near North Side.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

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

White, Illinois’ longest-serving secretary of state, declined to seek reelection this year. Fellow Democrat Alexi Giannoulias will succeed him in January.

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

“I’m about 60 years old, and for my whole lifetime he has been giving back to our community,” Burnett said. “He may be sunsetting his political career, but he thankfully will be continuing his humanitarian work.”

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

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

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

As temperatures plunged below freezing, volunteers handed out 500 jackets and 200 pairs of socks. The clothes were donated by Ann Jhin, chief executive officer of Jinny Beauty Supply and a member of the Korean American Friendship Network.

White, 88, has been working with Jhin and the Korean American Friendship Network to hand out coats during Chicago winters for 14 years.

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 worked to clean up the office,” he said.

White said he’s proud of his work improving customer service and modernizing operations at driver’s license facilities, establishing the first-person consent registry for organ and tissue donations and working on roadway safety with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

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

“He has given so much to the Chicago and Illinois community,” Jones said. “Of all his accomplishments, one constant since 1959 has been the Jesse White Tumbling Team. So I wanted a piece to speak to 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.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

The painting shows White standing in a Superman pose, opening a button-up shirt to reveal a T-shirt with the symbol for the tumbling team.

“At every tumbling team performance, one tumbler leaps over the group. That tumbler is called Superman,” Jones said. “Well, Jesse White has been our Superman since 1959.”

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