Trish Koehler Senneff graduated from Newman in 1977. In addition to being an outstanding student, she was a member of the first girls volleyball and track teams. She was the National Honor Society President, an Illinois State Scholar and was named Most Valuable Player and All Conference in volleyball.
In 1981, she graduated with honors from Aurora University with a double major in Political Science and Writing and Language. While at Aurora she was Editor of the Aurora Borealis, the university’s newspaper. Trish earned a variety of journalism and writing awards, was the third place winner of the Art Award and had original poetry included in the AU student publication.
Trish then enrolled in law school at Drake University; she graduated with her Juris Doctorate Degree in 1984. At Drake, she was the winner of two American Bar Association national writing awards, Editor-in-chief of The Gavel, the Drake Law School newspaper, Editor of the law school’s annual report. In addition to these accolades, Trish was a Dean’s Service Award winner, President’s Award winner, Who’s Who among American Law Students, honorary columnist for the Des Moines Register, and a member of the Student-Faculty Relations Committee.
She began her law career as assistant state’s attorney in 1985. She was in private practice from 1997 until 2012 when she was elected Whiteside County State’s Attorney, the first female to hold that position. In 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously appointed her to the Whiteside County Circuit Court, again, the first female to hold that position. In 2019, she was appointed Whiteside County President Circuit Judge, the first female presiding judge in the 14th Circuit and the position she currently holds. She was also the first female Whiteside County Bar Association president.
Part of her appointment to the Circuit Court required an interview with the Illinois Supreme Court. Prior to the interview she had been hit by a car, airlifted to a trauma unit and undergone surgery. The day of her interview she arrived with her arm in a sling, walking with a cane, sporting sutures in her scalp with bruising from head to toe. Needless to say, she was apprehensive about what the court would think about her ability to do the job. Fortunately for Trish, the Justice who interviewed her had also been in a serious accident and as result, confined to a wheelchair. He told her that he had no concerns that her physical injuries would affect her job performance, and she was ultimately approved for the 14th Circuit position.
Trish’s professional achievements include developing the Whiteside County Victim Impact Panel, the Juvenile Justice Council and the Whiteside County Drug Court. She also instituted a number of measures to secure the solvency of the Whiteside County child advocacy center, April House.
In her spare time, Trish is involved in a myriad of volunteer activities including Rotary Club, CGH Medical Center Hearing Officer, Whiteside County Honor Flight, Crime Stoppers Board member, Northwestern Illinois Criminal Justice Committee Board member, YMCA Board, YWCA Women of Achievement Luncheon Committee member and sponsor, Past President of Sacred Heart Pastoral Council and many others.
In 2015, Trish received the Women of Achievement Crete Dillon Bowman Award for community service. Self Help Enterprises named her volunteer of the year in 2019. She is also an avid Newman Central Catholic supporter and has sponsored the Trish Senneff college scholarship for the past ten years.
Trish is the daughter of Jack and Carol Koehler and was their primary caregiver as they grew older and transitioned into assisted living centers. She visited them almost daily and attended to their needs until they passed away in 2018 and 2019.
Kim Koehler Freitag nominated her sister with these words, “she is an outstanding example of a person who has served her community and distinguished herself with a number of female firsts. She has served on boards that benefit the Catholic and larger communities and strives to improve every organization which she serves.”
Trish has broken barriers her entire life. Physical barriers in recovering from the car accident and interviewing with the Supreme Court and social barriers, as a member of Newman’s first girls sports teams as well as in her career as an attorney and judge. She is an outstanding example of excellence in many areas: athletics and academics as well as journalism, the arts and the law. She is a trailblazer and role model for the entire Newman student body.