Wilmette Mayor Senta Plunkett Talks Favorite Spots and Plans to Expand Downtown

Senta Plunkett, who grew up in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago, moved with her husband to Wilmette 17 years ago and the couple raised a family. An attorney by trade, the mother of three children ages 18, 16 and 12 served her community in many roles over the years. She served 12 years on Wilmette’s Historic Preservation Commission then was a member of the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners. Six years ago, she was elected as a village trustee, a post to which she was reelected in 2019. Today, she is taking on the role of Wilmette’s mayor, an accomplishment encouraged by her late mother. She recently answered a few questions for Better on everything from priorities during the village’s upcoming sesquicentennial to her love of running. 

What are the top priorities for your village as you start in your new role as mayor?

Wilmette-downtown chicago suburbs

Next year, Wilmette will celebrate its 150th birthday. As we plan for this milestone, and all the festivities that will accompany it, it is a great time to reflect on where Wilmette has come from and what our priorities for the future will be. Paramount to these priorities is ensuring that Wilmette continues to be a great place to live. Continuing to develop our local economy includes recruiting new businesses, supporting our current businesses, and making important infrastructure investments. Wilmette’s Downtown Streetscape is an example of a project that does all those things. The project, which will be substantially completed by the end of June and will showcase a new and improved downtown with enhanced areas for outdoor dining and gathering. This will serve to further cement Wilmette as the North Shore’s premier dining destination. I will continue to strive for a sustainable future in Wilmette. The village has instigated many green energy initiatives including sourcing renewable energy for our water plant and storm water pumping station, installing a green roof over our water plant, purchasing hybrid police vehicles and continuing to add native plantings throughout our community including the Edens Pollinator Corridor.

What’s something great about your town that people who don’t live there might not know about?

Wilmette is a more diverse town in many respects than people may realize. There is a broad range of housing opportunities for residents of all ages and backgrounds. As a community we are striving to foster more diversity. Our reinvigorated Human Relations and Housing Commissions are working to make Wilmette as welcoming as can be and accessible to all those who call it home. Recent projects, such as Cleland Place, a 16-unit affordable housing development located at the former American Legion Building on Wilmette Avenue, and the future Optima Development located at 1210 Central which includes significant contributions for affordable housing in partnership with the Community Partners for Affordable Housing, will help to increase the affordable housing opportunities in Wilmette. 

Our Human Relations Commission will be starting community engagement sessions in the coming months and listening to community members on how to make our community more welcoming to current and future residents.

What’s something in your town that needs improvement and how will you address it?

Downtown Wilmette New Design

For years, Wilmette discussed how best to solve its storm water flooding issues. Wilmette’s existing and aging storm sewer system, west of Ridge Road, does not have enough capacity to handle a two-year-rain event. After over five years of study, the village board approved the Neighborhood Storage Project in 2018. The Project consists of three phases of storm sewers and underground flood storage in our neighborhood parks.  Despite the challenges of the Pandemic, the board made the decision to proceed with Phase 1 of the project in 2020, which constructed storm sewers and a vault under the Community Playfields. Phase 2 of the project is currently underway at Hibbard Park, and Phase 3 is slated to start in 2022 at Thornwood Park.

When finished, the Neighborhood Storage Project will protect 98% of the homes west of Ridge Road from flooding.

If you had a whole day to spend in your town and the weather was perfect, where would you go and what would you do?

Baha’i Temple Wilmette
Baha’i Temple

A perfect Saturday in the spring or fall would start by attending one of my children’s soccer games at the Community Playfields, off of Locust Road. Following the soccer game, our family would head downtown to Wilmette’s French Market. In addition to the fruits and vegetables brought in by local farmers, we would always find a delicious treat — from fresh croissants to hand-made donuts. After the inevitable trip to our convenient local hardware store, we would head home to unpack the goodies and regroup. A perfect afternoon might include a neighborhood bike ride through the beautiful Mallinckrodt Park off of Ridge Road where all my children learned to ride their bikes. A great day would not be complete without a trip to Gillson Park and a walk along the waterfront to take in the scenic views of the lakefront, Wilmette Harbor, the Baha’i Temple and enjoying the beach and all the lakefront amenities. In the evening, our family would head Downtown to enjoy one of the amazing restaurants; with so many options its hard to choose which one. We love Wilmette’s outdoor dining scene, sitting under the cafe lights and enjoying the live music Friday and Saturday nights. Dessert, of course, would be the perfect end to the day — put to a vote as to whether it would be ice cream or frozen yogurt that night.

Who is someone in your town who inspires you and why?

The women leaders in Wilmette have and continue to inspire my efforts and I hope will continue to inspire future young leaders in Wilmette.  

What is your favorite charitable cause or causes?

Wilmette has its own philanthropy which I love to support called Housing Our Own — Wilmette. This is a private charity, founded and supported by the Village of Wilmette, which raises funds to help low-income seniors and residents with disabilities offset the cost of property tax and monthly rent payments.  

On a personal note, one of my causes of late is to try to give back to the healthcare workers and caregivers who took care of my parents over the last several years. When you are in a situation of looking after elderly and sick parents, you know how indispensable caregivers are. This past year, the challenges experienced by those caregivers increased tenfold, yet their work was more critical than ever. Sometimes they were the only connection between the elderly and their family members. For those with family members in assisted or nursing facilities, donating to funds earmarked for employees is a great way to show appreciation and directly help those working in essential caregiving fields.

What do you want the residents of your town to know about you as you step in to your new role?

Wilmette-Boats-Chicago Suburb Mayor Interview

I want residents to know that I enjoy hearing from them. I have always considered myself to be approachable and a good listener and I want to hear the ideas of the community and learn how we can continue to improve as a village.

What is a fun little-known fact about you that no one knows about?

I used to love running — I think that came from my Dad who was a track and field star in his younger days in Austria. It was my dream for some time to run a marathon, and the spring and summer I spent preparing for the Chicago Marathon was one of the most special and memorable times I’ve ever experienced. My Dad wanted to run the last mile with me — alas he was not able to, but he was right there to cheer me across the finish line. It felt so great to set a concrete goal for myself and be able to achieve it and have the support of my family all the way.

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Amanda Marrazzo lives in the northwest Chicago suburb of Algonquin. She has been a news reporter for 25 years, including 17 years writing for the Chicago Tribune. She is married with two adult daughters and two dogs.