CHICAGO – Hillary Rodham Clinton fondly recalled her childhood in Illinois Saturday night when she returned to receive the state's top honor from Gov. Pat Quinn.
The former first lady, who is mulling whether to run for president in 2016, was one of seven people receiving the Order of Lincoln medallion during a ceremony at the Field Museum.
The 66-year-old Clinton, described by Order Chancellor Thomas Johnson as "perhaps the most famous woman in the world," was heralded for her accomplishments advocating for health care reform, her campaign for president and her work as the country's chief diplomat. But she did not speak of them.
Instead, Clinton remembered growing up in leafy, suburban Park Ridge, and trips to the beach in Chicago. She recalled playing "mushball" – a local twist on softball – which uses a 16-inch ball. She joked it's a game that "does not exist anywhere else in the universe."
"I am so grateful for the experiences that I had growing up here – the quality of education and opportunity that I was given, the support that I saw at every turn," said Clinton, 66. "To have the chance to come and be with so many of the people who have made this state such an exceptional place in honor of the greatest president who has ever served our country, is very special indeed for me."
In a statement released before the ceremony, Quinn said Clinton "has personified the best of Illinois and the United States" through her decades of service. He cited her work championing human rights, democracy, civil society and opportunity for women.
Clinton, born in Chicago, ran for president in 2008 and served as U.S. senator from New York and secretary of state under President Barack Obama. Although she hasn't said whether she'll run in 2016, she is considered a likely dominant front-runner should she jump in.
Clinton has said she will decide whether to seek the White House again later this year and plans to embark on a national tour in June to promote "Hard Choices," a memoir about her State Department years.
Others recipients Saturday included attorney and Federal Communications Commission chair Newton Minow, the Rev. Donald Senior, former Catholic Theological Union president; composers Bernard Rands and Augusta Read Thomas, who are married, and businessmen John Canning and Glenn Tilton.
The eighth recipient, Duke University Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, was honored at a Saturday afternoon luncheon, due to a scheduling conflict in Durham, North Carolina later that evening.
Krzyzewski, who led the university to four NCAA championships and is coach of the U.S. Olympic basketball team, joked that he felt "like a walk-on" among the other award recipients.
Emotional at times during his speech, he cited his parents' work ethic and values as reasons for his successes.
"I love my roots, they're with me all the time," he said.
Quinn, who faces a tough re-election battle this year against Republican Bruce Rauner, said Saturday the purpose of the award is to recognize citizens who've brought honor to the state of Illinois. Past recipients include former President Ronald Reagan and Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Ann McMorrow.