Meet our 2017 King Dad and Daughter

This past Dads Weekend, the Illini Dads Association was pleased to crown Chris Thilmany of Schaumburg, IL our 2017 King Dad. Chris was nominated by his daughter, Gabriella Welch, a sophomore at the University of Illinois.

In her nomination, Gabriella articulates that Chris has re-defined what the word ‘father’ means to her in more ways than one. He has been an integral part of Gabriella’s life since she was five years old, and has continuously supported and encouraged her since.

She writes, “Chris took my brother and I in with open arms when we met him, and I could not have asked for a more special, caring, and loving man for my mom to have met and married and who I can call my real dad. I have never felt the love from a father until I met him and I could never repay him for what he has done for my family.”

We caught up with Chris before the football game on Saturday to talk about his new role as King Dad at the University and his relationship with Gabriella.

Illini Dads Association: What was your reaction to winning King Dad last year?

Chris: I was shocked. A little emotional, a little touched. She wrote a very nice essay that I got to see now. She had some very kind things to say so it was very nice to see that.

Illini Dads Association: When you found out your daughter had taken the time to nominate you for something so special, what were your initial thoughts?

Chris: Definitely shocked at first. She’s a great kid and it was nice to hear some of the things she had to say. I’m Gabby’s step-dad so I’ve been in her life since she was five. It was a little emotional because you don’t hear all of this all of the time. So, it was kind of weird from a step-dad role because you don’t know where you’re allowed to stand, what you’re allowed to say, this and that. Trying to tread lightly most of the time. But, it was good to see all of the things that she had to say.

Illini Dads Association: What has been your favorite part about watching your daughter grow up?

Chris: Just seeing the woman she’s turned into. Like I said, I’ve known her since she was five. Being able to raise her and seeing who she’s become. Obviously she got here to U of I, her brother graduated from here so it was a big goal of hers to get into to U of I. It was a big accomplishment for her and it’s great being back here with her now.

Illini Dads Association: What do you find most inspiring about your daughter, Gabby?

Chris: She’s got a kind heart. She’s very sweet and she always thinks about other people, she’s always trying to please people. So, I would say that’s the biggest thing.

Illini Dads Association: How would you define your relationship with your daughter?

Chris: Very close. I’ve done everything with her. I’ve coached her softball teams, played sports with her all her life. She’s in orchestra, and I’ve been to all her concerts. We love going to concerts together. I got her into country music now, so we go to country concerts. We do a lot together.

Illini Dads Association: What are your hopes for her as she attends college and after graduation?

Chris: That she’s successful and that she’s very happy. That she has a happy life, gets what she wants and reaches all her hopes and dreams.

Illini Dads Association: Are you nervous about being crowned King Dad in front of the whole stadium?

Chris: Very nervous. I’ll be on the big screen and everything so it should definitely be interesting!


We also got a chance to catch up with Gabby after Dads Weekend as well to hear more about why she nominated her dad to be our King Dad 2017!


Illini Dads Association: How did you decide to nominate your dad?

Gabby: Once I found the link for this King Dad Award, I thought it would be extremely cool to do something like that for my Dad. I do not get to show my appreciation enough for what he has done for me and I felt maybe the award would show him how much he means to me.

Illini Dads Association: Why do you think your dad was a good candidate for the award?

Gabby: My dad, who technically is called my step-dad, walked into my mom, my brother’s, and my life when I was about five years old. Since then he has done nothing but treat me like his daughter. Every sport I joined (and then quit haha), he was taking me to practices and coming to all my games. He attended all of my school events and orchestra concerts with a smile on his face. He is extremely encouraging and loves my brother and I a ton and that is why he deserved the award and why I thought he was a good candidate. He has been there for my family and I through everything.

Illini Dads Association: What qualities does your dad possess that make him stand out from other dads? Why?

Gabby: My family has been put through a lot during my 20 years of being alive, and when my dad joined our lives he dealt with all of the issues and problems that arose. What makes him so special in my opinion is that he did not technically have to deal with some of the problems that have come up in our lives but he chose to stay and help us and help me especially and that is so important to me.

Illini Dads Association: What’s special about the relationship between you and your dad?

Gabby: Again, my dad and I are very close. From the moment I met him when I was five there was no going back to a life without him. He is always there for me whenever I need him and honestly he is one of the first people I go to when I need help with something or advice.

Illini Dads Association: What would you want to thank your dad for the most?

Gabby: I want to thank him for just being there for my family and I. We would not have the life we do if he had not become a part of our family. I especially want to thank him for taking my brother and I in without hesitation and treating us like we are his own kids. He has always been there for us and I appreciate that so much.

Illini Dads Association: What’s your favorite thing to do with your dad? Why?

Gabby: My favorite thing to do with my dad probably sounds funny, but I love going to breakfast with him. Our favorite breakfast place that we go to a lot is called Wildberry. I guess it is my favorite because, I probably shouldnt say this haha) but in high school sometimes I would go in late or not go to school once in a while and my dad would take me to breakfast. I was so busy in high school with sports and orchestra and school in general and my dad also had a busy work schedule so the times we would go to breakfast together were and still are my favorite times.

Illini Dads Association: What was it like attending the football game and having your dad be crowned King Dad in front of the whole stadium?

Gabby: I seriously thought that was the coolest thing ever. The whole day was amazing and I cannot thank the Dad’s Association enough for making everything about that day so special. Going out on the field was awesome and I will never forget a moment like that and I know neither will my dad.

The Illini Dads Association is incredibly honored to have crowned Chris Thilmany as our 2017 King Dad. We wish both Chris and Gabriella a wonderful year!