GENEVA – If a high school or middle school student in Geneva got caught with tobacco, marijuana, alcohol or drugs, he often would be sent to Charles “Chic” Williams.
If parents suspected their child was using, they called Williams, who would take care of the urine check to see whether the kid was clean.
Williams counseled at-risk youth and those already in trouble, getting them into counseling or treatment facilities, into 12-step programs or referrals to Kane County’s Drug Court. Williams started the Parent to Parent programs at Geneva School District 304, every year teaching a new set of parents how to thwart what he called a “toxic culture” from grabbing hold of their kids.
A stalwart in Geneva’s prevention and intervention community, Williams, 67, died Monday at his home in Rockford.
All the flags in Geneva are at half-staff in honor of Williams, said Mayor Kevin Burns.
“Mr. Williams dedicated his career and his life to educating students and saving their lives,” Burns said. “His commitment to the youth of Geneva touched generations and will impact generations to come.”
Geneva Police Chief Steve Mexin said as Williams worked closely with police for many years, “we witnessed firsthand the positive effect he had on the youth in our community.”
“His dedication and commitment to helping kids redirect and improve their lives was undeniable,” Mexin said in an email. “His pragmatic, yet compassionate, approach to getting kids back on the right path changed countless lives and truly made a difference.”
Lea Minalga, who coordinates Hearts of Hope, a nonprofit organization that provides education, support and advocacy to those affected by drug and alcohol abuse, said she was saddened to hear of his death.
“I’ve known him for so many years, helping kids to get back on track and steering them in the right direction,” Minalga said. “He was a man of great compassion and energy to help these families in the community. He was definitely a hero in this good fight. He definitely was a man fighting the good fight for others.”
An English teacher at Geneva High School, Williams became dean of students in 1979. As dean, he saw firsthand the devastation alcohol and drugs caused students. Working with then-Principal Craig Collins, they helped turn the drug policy toward prevention and assistance rather than punishment.
Collins, who is now assistant superintendent for human resources, said they worked together nearly 14 years. He called Williams “a visionary in that way” for changing the way the district handled alcohol and drug issues.
“He was very insistent that there needed to be consequences and not punish kids by taking them away from activities or things that were important to them,” Collins said. “But the poor choices they made could be used as an opportunity to do some really important work.”
As dean, Williams was the rule enforcer. But Collins said Williams also was able to communicate with students that he was on their side.
“Chic was there to encourage them and hold them accountable, and that is pretty remarkable in a dean,” Collins said.
Later, Williams became certified as an alcohol and drug addiction counselor, first as co-coordinator of the Community Intervention Team, now the Community Intervention Program for Geneva and Kane County, Collins said Williams really turned some kids around “and Geneva is much the better for it.”
“He was open about his own challenges with drugs and alcohol,” Collins said. “It served to give him the energy and also the patience that needs to be present when dealing with addiction issues. It’s not something you can flip a switch – they could trust what he was telling them because he lived it.”
After his retirement, Williams founded Williams Intervention Consulting and continued working as the community intervention specialist, along with his wife, Linda Williams, also a certified drug and alcohol counselor.
Even his office in the basement at Geneva School District 304 administration building on Fourth Street, was by design to protect the privacy of the students and families he served, said Mary Lu O’Halloran, who facilitated Geneva’s Red Ribbon Week for 18 years.
“We’ll never know how many lives he saved, how many he influenced or how many parents took one more step to get their kid into recovery at an age when it was still possible,” O”Halloran said. “He gave them the courage to interrupt their [kid’s] addiction. He gave them the courage to be in their [kid’s] face when it was easier to be in denial. Anything that needed to be done that was tough, he did it and encouraged us to do it.”
Williams’ devotion was well known in the prevention community, she said.
“He was not kidding when he said you could call him any time, day or night, and he would be there for you,” O’Halloran said. “I know people did call him at 2 or 3 in the morning when things were bad, and he would give advice to guide that family. Never once did he say, ‘Hold on, I’m too busy.’ Never once in over 25 years.”
Williams took it all personally, O’Halloran said, because of his own challenges.
“He walked the talk – that was his greatest gospel,” O’Halloran said. “He told it to you straight.
The visitation will be from 3 p.m. Friday, April 26, at Malone Funeral Home, 324 E. State St., Geneva, until the time of the funeral memorial service at 8 p.m.