DECATUR – Amy Bliefnick starts work Monday as the third executive director of mri, also known as Macon Resources Inc.
Members of the board chose the Decatur native to work alongside Dreux Lewandowski until he retires in the next few weeks after nearly 13 years as the agency's exec.
Bliefnick, 59, was director of the Illinois State Fair in Springfield from 2004 to 2015 after serving as director of development for St. Teresa High School the previous nine years. She also previously served on the Special Olympics Illinois Board of Directors.
“What really stuck out about Amy was her business experience and her exposure to special populations,” said John Mickler, mri's board chairman. “She has a passion and enthusiasm for our agency and our clients and was by far the strongest candidate for the job.”
Bliefnick said Saturday the position fits her desire to go into nonprofit agency management and a love for helping people with special needs that began in the 1970s when her father, Darrell Beck, started Special Olympics in Central Illinois.
“It's important to continue providing quality services for people with disabilities, especially in this tough economic time,” she said.
Bliefnick has a bachelor's degree in organizational leadership at Greenville College and previously served on the board of Richland Community College. She and her husband Ray have three grown sons and four grandsons.
Mickler also had nothing but praise for Lewandowski's tenure at mri. “He's grown the agency and leaves us in a strong position,” he said.
His accomplishments include keeping the formerly all-volunteer Homeward Bound Pet Shelter operating 11 additional years until its closure in 2016; overseeing a successful merger with Independence Pointe, formerly known as Easter Seals Central Illinois on Jan. 1, 2015; and increasing the agency's income-generating businesses, culminating in a new contract to manufacture all new license plates in Illinois as part of a replacement program starting this year.
Mri serves about 850 people with developmental disabilities and their families and has about 230 employees.
Lewandowski, 66, said he's looking forward to having more time for Decatur Brew Works, a business he co-owns with three others, and seeing the five grown children he and his wife Peggy have between them, not to mention their seven grandchildren.
He once was a workshop foreman for Macon County Rehabilitation Facilities until he left to become a case coordinator at Progress Resources Center.
The two Decatur agencies merged in 1988 to form Macon Resources with Kay Scrogin as its first executive director. She retired a few weeks after Lewandowski was hired to replace her in 2004.
His job before coming to Macon Resources was overseeing 22 residential facilities for the developmentally disabled in Central Illinois for Community Living Options, based in Galesburg.
Lewandowski has a bachelor's degree in liberal arts from Arizona State University.
“I've been in disability services for 35 years,” he said. “The most painful will be to separate from all the people we worked with. That was the best part of my job.”