NACo aims to strengthen America’s counties by forging multisector relationships and collaborating at both the state and federal level. The increased support allows for policy advancement at all levels of government. NACo also provides cutting edge forums for peer networking and knowledge exchange, optimizing tax payer dollars. In addition to hosting conferences throughout the year, NACo provides countless educational resources online to assist decision makers with a variety of topics, from agriculture and broadband internet to transportation and Veteran’s Affairs.
“Will County now has a seat at the big table,” said Winfrey. “This is a first, for me personally, and for Will County. I will be the third president of NACo from Illinois, and the first from Will County.” Previous NACo presidents from Illinois include Angelo D. Kyle of Lake County and John H. Stroger of Cook County.
“I am so proud of my friend and District 8 seatmate, Denise Winfrey,” said fellow Will County Board Member Herb Brooks Jr. “The two of us go a long way back together and it has been inspiring to watch Denise on this journey. To think, we have gone from working together at home in Joliet, to the national stage here in Denver. The truth is, Denise is a fighter, there is absolutely no stopping her. She is well on her way to changing the world, and we are all grateful for it. I am honored to be included in this special day.” Brooks will perform the swearing in ceremony, meanwhile Winfrey’s granddaughter, Logan, who has been alongside her grandmother on the path leading to the NACo presidency, will hold the Bible.
“My parents wanted us to understand the importance of being involved in our community,” said Winfrey, whose parents were incredibly active in the community and worked hard to get the first Black person appointed to the Will County Board. Winfrey fondly remembers sitting in the backseat of the car with her two brothers, assembling candidate packets, while her mother drove and her father walked door-to-door. “This will be the first time in over 40-years that a Black woman will lead NACo, and it’s only the second time in NACo’s 80-plus year history. It’s a big deal,” Winfrey added.
Winfrey began her formal government service in 2003, serving as Collector for Joliet Township. Following the passing of former Board Member David Evans in 2009, Winfrey was appointed to the Will County Board. While serving at the county, former Board Member Frank Stewart and current Board Member Jim Moustis, who was Speaker at the time, approached Winfrey about an organization called NACo, and as they say, the rest is history.
Winfrey made NACo her mission, never missing an annual conference or legislative conference. Eventually, Moustis brought forth a resolution from the Will County Board in support of Winfrey for the NACo Board. In July 2020, Winfrey was elected Second Vice President of NACo, securing her future roles as First Vice President in 2021, and ultimately President of the organization in 2022.
“Watching Denise rise to become President of NACo has been a real honor. I still remember when we first discussed this opportunity with Denise,” said Will County Board Member Jim Moustis. “The County has supported her throughout this journey, having her serve in this position will continue to bring a bright spotlight on the importance of Will County to our region, state and the nation.”
Winfrey was the first woman to serve as Will County Board Speaker, followed by interim County Executive after the passing of County Executive Larry Walsh in 2020. In the past, she has served on numerous local boards and organizations including the Center for Independent Living, CASA of River Valley, Silver Cross Hospital Board and the City Center Partnership. Winfrey has also served in many capacities within NACo, including her service as Vice Chair of NACo’s Community Economic and Workforce Development Policy Steering Committee and a Vice Chair of the Large Urban Counties Caucus. She has been a member of the Women of NACo, the National Organization of Black County Officials, the Membership Committee and the NACo Board of Directors. She is also a graduate of NACo’s High Performance Leadership Academy and County Leadership Institute.