City Manager Ghida Neukirch is respected as a poised and inspirational leader for Highland Park.
But she was the first to admit she was overwhelmed on Monday evening, Dec. 12.
During the City Council meeting, an emotional Neukirch accepted a heroism award for what Highland Park officials described as her “bravery, leadership and outstanding service to the community” on the day and in the wake of the mass shooting at the town’s Fourth of July parade.
“I usually don’t get overwhelmed, but I am,” Neukirch said on Monday. “Truly this means so much to me. I can’t express enough how much it is truly my pleasure and my privilege to work with all of you.”
In presenting the award, Mayor Nancy Rotering celebrated Neukirch’s life-saving efforts on July 4, when she ran back toward the gunfire to help her wounded neighbors, and unifying efforts after that tragic day, as she developed response measures to help Highland Park forge a path forward.
“She is a coalition builder, she exemplifies our shared values, she is our proverbial north star,” Rotering said in part during the meeting. “This was particularly evident from the moment the Highland Park shooting changed all of our lives. In a single instance of bravery at the Highland Park shooting and through continued service in the face of adversity, Ghida has displayed courage, heroism and professionalism.”
The award trophy given to Neukirch is in the image of a blue flame, which Rotering said is not only Highland Park blue but also represents a stronger and brighter flame that burns at a high temperature. She added, “You have no idea what the weight has been bearing on each shoulder.”
Formerly a municipal administrator in Niles and Buffalo Grove, Neukirch came to the City of Highland Park in July of 2012. She became city manager two years later.
Neukirch told the council that “community” is one of her core values picked up from her parents, who emigrated from Lebanon during the country’s civil war (1975-1990).
While presenting the heroism award, Rotering recalled that on July 4 while the City Council was working to evacuate the parade route, Neukirch ran back to help some of the 50-plus individuals who were shot by the rooftop gunman.
“That day started out as an absolutely beautiful day … and in a moment turned into an absolute nightmare,” Neukirch said. “My son was with me, and of course, I was worried about his safety, but we are all family. So was it smart to run back into the hot zone? No, it wasn’t really smart, but it was instinctual.
“And really all of you give me strength. … It is your leadership of this community, and really the world looked to all of you, and especially Mayor Rotering, as a leader when tragedy of this nature happens this is how a community should respond. And I am grateful to you for your leadership, your guidance and your support of our team.”
In the months following the tragedy on July 4, Neukirch and city staff led Highland Park forward by coordinating the city’s emergency response, securing key community and intergovernmental partnerships, developing solutions for the temporary memorials, and much more.
City council members each took turns thanking and praising Neukirch for the dedicated service. Neukirch’s words in acceptance were met with a round of applause from all in council chambers.
“From (my parents), my sister and I learned what courage looks like when it’s grounded in love,” she said, “and how important it is for each of us to use our unique talents to help others. This is not an obligation, but a privilege, and I am honored, so honored, to be doing work to serve with all of you.”
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