At risk of folding, Brookfield Women's Club forges ahead

Groundswell of interest pulls 111-year-old organization from the brink

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

It turns out that reports of the demise of Brookfield Women's Club were greatly exaggerated. 

After a July story in this newspaper reported that the five remaining members of the Brookfield Women's Club had decided to shut down the club this fall, an influx of new, younger members has saved the club.

"I heard about it through Facebook and decided that it was an organization worth saving," said 37-year-old Rachel Esposito, who is one of the new members. "I think we can keep the momentum going and hopefully breathe some new life into it as well."

The club, established in 1906, had dwindled to just five members, none under the age of 77. Now the club has 22 official members and more are expected to join by turning in their $30 annual dues. 

Four of the five incumbent members of the club are continuing on with the club. Betty Moskiewicz had to resign from the club last month, because the new meeting time on Wednesday evening conflicts with the volunteer work she does at LaGrange Memorial Hospital.

The holdover members are thrilled the club is continuing and are thrilled with the influx of new members.

"I'm happy that we got the attention of younger gals who will continue our club, because it's been an asset to Brookfield for many, many years," said 84-year-old Joanne Bazata, who has been a member of the club since 1980. "I'm just happy it's not closing its doors."

Bazata said that the new members have brought new ideas and energy to the club. Of course, some of the ideas involve change. Instead of holding the club's annual Bunco fundraising party in the basement of the Brookfield Village Hall, where the club meets on the first Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m., the newer members want to hold this year's party, scheduled for Nov. 12, at a bar.

Switching the meetings to evenings was an accommodation to newer members, who seem mostly to be in their 30s and 40s.

About a week after the Landmark story about the apparently inevitable demise of the club, President Sylvia Gauthier got a phone call from Cindy O'Keefe, a lawyer who lives in the Hollywood section of Brookfield. 

O'Keefe, 42, had not even heard of the club before, read the story about the club disbanding and was moved. O'Keefe, who is the administrator for the Brookfield Connections page on Facebook, began talking, over Facebook of course, about the club with her friend Kari Giacomelli. 

They started a movement to save the club by encouraging women to join it. Word spread quickly on social media.

"We didn't realize that's what we were missing," Bazata said. "We were supposed to be on Facebook."

The holdovers were surprised, but pleased, at the renewed interest in the club which is affiliated with General Federation of Women's Clubs.

"All of us were flabbergasted," said the 79-year-old Gauthier. 

Gauthier invited those interested joining or finding out more about the club to come to an informal coffee meeting in early August. At the club's September meeting, which was going to be its finale, more than 20 prospective members attended and many joined on the spot.

The newly expanded club elected officers at the September meeting, choosing Gauthier and O'Keefe as co-presidents. O'Keefe will run the meetings and Gauthier will handle communications with district, state and national federations. 

New members were elected to other offices. Giacomelli was elected vice president, Kirsten Black was elected treasurer and Jenna Roman was chosen to be secretary.

O'Keefe quickly established a Facebook page for the club, Brookfield Women's Club of Illinois (it was known as the Brookfield Woman's Club previously), which now has 144 people "liking" it.

About 20 women showed up last week for the October meeting. There was a bit of a culture clash between the new and the old members -- some of the new members didn't know what Bunco was.

In addition to the revamped Bunco fundraiser, members are planning to host a daddy/daughter dance next year as a fundraiser.

And the new members were full of ideas for new activities. Plans are being made to produce and sell T-shirts. There was also talk of mentoring girls, getting involved in anti-bullying efforts and perhaps holding a manners class for girls and boys. 

"I love the idea of getting women together and doing things for the community," Black said.

Ann Heinl, 44, was interested in joining the club 11 years ago when she moved to Brookfield. But the timing of the 1:00 p.m. meetings didn't work for the stay at home mom of 4.

"I wanted to do this a decade ago, but I always had a kid who napped when they met," said Heinl, who is very interested in the history of Brookfield. 

So when her friend Maria Kaplan told her about the club being in danger of shutting down and the effort to save it, Heinl jumped at the chance to join.

Longtime members Gauthier, Bazata, Carol Kasnicka, and Joi Zuccarello are happy to help the new members and remain part of the club.

"It's good to keep it going," Gauthier said.

This story has been changed to correctly identify the secretary of the Brookfield Women's Club. It is Jenna Roman.

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