Downtown Libertyville was in tough shape in 1992, when Pam Hume began volunteering for a fledgling revitalization group.
MainStreet Libertyville had been organized only a few years earlier, almost as a last-ditch effort to reverse blight, attract reinvestment and fill empty stores.
In the nearly three decades since, through a series of cooperative and coordinated efforts, the area has been transformed into a source of hometown pride. MainStreet now hosts more than 50 days of community and retail events each year and has made downtown Libertyville a place to be for thousands of residents and visitors.
Along the way, Hume has remained closely involved with MainStreet as a volunteer, board member and chairwoman, and since late 2009, its executive director.
She has weathered the organization's near demise, worked through the Great Recession and lately been trying to devise ways to help businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.
But after more than 10 years as the only full-time paid employee of an organization that has become a national model, Hume will retire at the end of the month.
"It was my passion," she said. "You get what you put into it."
There's no specific reason, just time to call it a career and take a break, Hume said. She told others of her decision to step down six months ago -- long before the coronavirus created unprecedented havoc for downtown businesses and visitors.
"Pam is truly the face of MainStreet," said Chairman Mark Anderson. "She literally had her finger on the pulse of everything that was going on in Libertyville. She truly loves the town."
A village proclamation recently read into the public record by Mayor Terry Weppler commended Hume for "outstanding and selfless dedication" to residents and businesses.
"During her tenure she tirelessly championed historic preservation through economic development, always looking for ways to engage people with new ideas and advocacy for the community," the proclamation reads.
Hume acknowledges the contribution but does not take credit.
"It wasn't me," she said. "There were tons of volunteers behind all this."
Anderson said Hume and others brought MainStreet from the brink to what it is today.
She describes 2006 to 2008 as the "dark years," when the organization faced a financial crisis sparked in part by a significant cut in village funding.
The answer was to shift strategy to a residential-based membership and increase the number of public events. There now are about 700 residential and 400 business members.
"Look at what the community did -- look at the support we had," she said. "It's not what I did."
One consistent hurdle has been that many think MainStreet is a village enterprise, not a separate entity that relies on volunteers, memberships and donations to continue. MainStreet receives $10,000 annually from the village, but that's a fraction of its approximate $300,000 budget.
Hume said she plans to stay in town and remain involved to some extent, though not as the "frontman," so to speak.
"It's bittersweet for me," she said. "I'll be around and hopefully be a participant at some of the events and not have to worry if the band doesn't show up."