In memoriam: 2006 Good Neighbor Lolita Junk

A long-time real estate professional and 2006 Good Neighbor Award winner has died, but her impact on her southern Illinois community will remain for years to come.

Lolita Junk, a 45-year real estate veteran from Galesburg, Illinois, died Sunday, March 9. She was 81.

"The number one word I could use for Lolita was 'enthusiasm.' The fact that she talked to everyone with enthusiasm and could convince them her projects were worthwhile says a lot about her," says attorney and friend Steve Watts.

In 1995, Junk founded the Knox County Teen Court, which has helped more than 1,700 juvenile nonviolent, first-time offenders earn a second chance for a clean record by holding them accountable for their actions. In this alternative to traditional court, young people between the ages of 11 and 18 who have acknowledged their guilt go on trial before their peers. Local attorneys volunteer to be judges, but teenage volunteers serve as prosecutors, defense counsel, and jury members.

“Teen Court is an integral part of the criminal justice system in Knox County. Before Lolita founded the program, there wasn’t anything formal to help kids that were walking the fence,” says Watts, who has been a board member of Teen Court since its inception.

And the program works. The recidivism rate of teens who commit another crime is around 8 percent for Teen Court, unusually low compared with traditional courts.

Teen court sentences range from drug and alcohol counseling to anger management classes to community service. Teens who complete the process have their criminal records cleared. The program was the first of its kind in Illinois and has served as a model for teen courts around the state and the world.

“Because of Lolita’s work, Teen Court reached well beyond our county,” says Watts. Since Junk started the first Teen Court in Illinois, more than 130 similar programs have started around the state. Junk has advised Teen Courts around the country and has even met with Japanese officials to help them jump start a teen court.

Junk was selected by REALTOR® Magazine as one of five recipients of the Good Neighbor Award in 2006. She was awarded a $10,000 grant for Teen Court and presented with a crystal trophy during the 2006 REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans.

"I don't know who I will go to now for advice," said Knox County Teen Court Executive Director Paula Johnson, who took over from Junk. "I am still trying to fill her shoes and those were pretty big shoes to fill."