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Brookfield-based Whispering Oaks Girl Scout council merges with DuPage County council

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The organization known as the Girl Scouts of the USA is always evolving, to better meet the needs of its members. Now is such a time, when the locally established Girl Scouts of Whispering Oaks Council, so named since 1986, is merging with the Girl Scouts of DuPage County Council, headquartered in Lisle.

The Whispering Oaks office at 8934 Ogden Ave. in Brookfield closed for all time as of Sept. 30, and many of its members commenced contacting the DuPage County Council office at 2400 Ogden Avenue, in Lisle, instead. The as-yet unnamed new council will officially begin serving local Girl Scout troops in January. Recently a contest to choose the new name for the larger council was held, and a board vote on the winning name will be held in January, 2006.

Whispering Oaks has a long and noteworthy history, going back across the decades.

When the first Girl Scout troop in Brookfield was organized in August 1917, it was in the Congress Park section of the village. A year later, a troop met for the first time at the S.E. Gross School. However, there did not exist a main administration office or anything like an official local council that could offer advice, relay information or dispense uniform items and badges.

Such a concept was not entirely impossible. Six years later, retiring Capt. Elizabeth Shroyer, who had begun the first Red Clover Troop in Congress Park, had just such a notion of "forming a Girl Scout council," according to the Oct. 26, 1923 issue of the Suburban Magnet newspaper. While the idea was sound, it was not yet the right time, and so no Council came into being.

Brookfield Girl Scout troops also included those in other sections of the village. But, as a whole, they were geographically separated by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy (now called the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe) railroad tracks. Troops might be referred to as belonging to the north Brookfield area or the south Brookfield area.

In 1930, Brookfield became a Lone Troop Community, but not yet a full council. It was during this time that the Girl Scouts began the practice of selling cookies to raise funds.

Five years later, in 1935, the Brookfield Girl Scout Council or Brookfield Council of Girl Scouts, as it was also sometimes called, was officially chartered and came into existence. Even then, there was no separate sole building serving as an office site. But at least now both the north and south Brookfield troops were all underneath one umbrella. Mary N. Bollinger of 3540 Grand Blvd. acted as the council's first Girl Scout commissioner.

As the new year of January 1953 dawned, the idea of a division of troops, as had existed in pre-Council days, was once again discussed. At a board meeting held on Jan. 14, 1953, committee Chairman Una Wilbur presented this division plan. Brookfield's "North Neighborhood" would be made up of 22 troops from St. Paul's School, S.E. Gross School, Brook Park School and Hollywood School. The "South Neighborhood" troops, also numbering 22, would be from the Congress Park School, Lincoln School and St. Barbara's School.

Also presented was a plan to bring about a unification with the LaGrange Council, the Lyons Lone Troop Community and Western Springs Council troops. This led to "one of the most important decisions in the history of the Brookfield Girl Scout Council," stated an article in the April 30, 1953 issue of the Brookfield Enterprise.

On Wednesday, May 6, all the adult members of the Council would "cast their ballots on whether Brookfield will join with LaGrange, Lyons, and Western Springs and become the West Cook [Council] area in the Girl Scout Organization."

The Enterprise stated further that "the national Girl Scout Organization encourages lone Councils such as Brookfield to combine forces with other villages for more efficiency and economy in administrating Girl Scout affairs."

The vote was positive, and the West Cook Girl Scout Council was now formed. However, the north and south Brookfield scouts were still overseen as separate entities, even into the late 1960s. The first annual council meeting was held on Sept. 15, 1953.

The very next year, the West Cook Council extended its service area to include Summit, Justice, Bridgeview, Willow Springs and Bedford Park.

Many noteworthy projects were initiated during the 1950s, and it helped to have a strong central council ready to coordinate them all. The biggest was probably the location and acquisition of a formal Girl Scout campsite.

Prior to this, except for a cabin dedicated at Camp Bemis in Bemis Woods in 1921, the scouts didn't have any one established site to use regularly, having buildings and amenities. The Bemis cabin was too small even back then, with some scouts having to sleep outdoors in tents. By 1936, the scouts were "looking forward to the camping season at Camp Rotary [in] Cherry Valley, Illinois," according to the June 11, 1936 issue of the Brookfield Magnet newspaper.

In 1954, property on the Fox River, near Sheridan seemed most ideal. Already on it were a small lodge and an unfinished ranch house. This site was purchased, and work on it began immediately. The next year, 1955, Camp Kiwanis-on-the-Fox was established and open.

It was a short-lived name. In 1956, it was renamed Camp Merrybrook, a name it was to bear for the next 35 years, until it was renamed Camp River Trails in 1991. The mortgage for Camp Merrybrook was formally burned on Oct. 4, 1959.

From 1953 into the 1960s, the West Cook Council office was located at 53 S. LaGrange Road. It was just down the street, but on the other side of the block from the Boy Scout West Suburban Council office at 80 S. LaGrange Road.

By the early 1970s, The West Cook Council was located at 8934 Ogden Ave. in Brookfield. From 1979 to 1982, it was at 47 S. 6th Avenue, in LaGrange. As of 1983, the offices were moved to 930 Barnsdale Road in LaGrange Park.

It was in 1985 that another council merger was treated as being a definite possibility. On June 20, 1985, the Cloverleaf Council, at 2502 Austin Blvd. in Cicero, serving Cicero, Stickney and Forest View, voted to join with the bordering West Cook Council to form an entirely new, annually licensed Council.

West Cook Public Relations Director Louise Kuzmarskis expressed the general belief that since both councils were so small (Cloverleaf was the smallest one in the country and West Cook was among the smallest) that joining the two would save administrative time, and money could be put to better use in serving the needs of the scouts.

Cloverleaf especially cited their own lack of volunteers and their difficulty in providing adequate training programs as the most compelling reasons for seeking the merger.

The vote was overwhelmingly affirmative, with 108 ballots cast in that direction, against one abstention and two negative votes. As of 1986, the merger would be official, with a new name selected by council members. The new council would be called Whispering Oaks and, in combination, would serve Cicero, Forest View, Stickney, Sahs School in Stickney Township, Lyons, Bedford Park, Bridgeview, Brookfield, Burr Ridge, Countryside, Hickory Hills, Hodgkins, Indian Head Park, Justice, LaGrange, LaGrange Park, McCook, Summit, Western Springs and Willow Springs.

For the next 17 years, from 1986 to 2003, the Whispering Oaks Council was still operating out of increasingly cramped quarters at 930 Barnsdale Road in LaGrange Park. In the year 2000, the Lone Tree Area Council experienced financial difficulties, and, as that council dissolved, its scouts in the Hollywood section of Brookfield joined Whispering Oaks.

Then, in June 2003, the council planned to, but did not move to offices at the Umbrella Bank in Summit. Instead, for the next two years, until 2005, the council offices were relocated back to one of its former sites, at 8934 Ogden Ave. in Brookfield. Furniture once intended for use at the Umbrella Bank was installed in the even more confining Brookfield quarters.

Whispering Oaks was now providing programs for more than 3,500 Girl Scouts in 20 communities. But trouble was brewing.

In 2005, both scout membership and financial support were down, not just for Whispering Oaks, but for councils all across the country. United Way funding had virtually vanished. The Whispering Oaks Finance Committee took a long, hard look at the two problems, and reported the results to the Board of Directors, who agreed that either Camp River Trails be sold and a full-time professional fundraiser be hired, or that a merger with another council be undertaken as soon as possible.

The merger appeared to be the most promising way to go, and three councils were contacted: the Chicago Council, the South Cook Council and the DuPage Council. Members of Whispering Oaks were regularly kept up to date on the progress of the merger, and on July 12, the Board of Directors voted to unite with the DuPage County Council.

In a letter sent out to notify the members of this, Sara J. Szumski, Whispering Oaks Council president, wrote that "it was determined that [the] Girl Scouts of DuPage County Council would be the best fit for Whispering Oaks. It wasn't a decision of one council over the other, but rather which council would best meet the needs of our girls and adults now and in the future."

An information night was held on Aug. 23 at the DuPage Council's Camp Greene Wood. On Monday, Sept. 12, a special meeting of Whispering Oaks' members was held at Park Place of Countryside "to approve the dissolution of the corporation and transfer the existing assets to [the] Girl Scouts of DuPage County Council."

If the resolution was voted down, Whispering Oaks' fate would then rest in the hands of the national organization, the Girl Scouts of the USA. According to Janet Miller, the DuPage Council's director of brand management and communication, "there was negligible opposition." The merger would go through.

Programs and training courses would not be affected, and events once sponsored by Whispering Oaks would be incorporated into the schedule whenever possible. And Camp River Trails would be retained and utilized.

Even in an artistic sense, the councils had been linked by Fate. Their official Council patches almost exactly matched up, with Whispering Oaks' featuring two green oak leaves, with two brown acorns and DuPage County's being of two green oak leaves, with two brown acorns. The artwork was not exactly the same, but similar in motif.

Though this will be a newer and larger council, its goal will stay the same as it always has: To provide the opportunities and benefits of Girl Scouting "for every girl, everywhere."

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