Who says that philanthropy has to be boring? Definitely not the trio of ladies leading the way for the Lake Forest Woman’s Club signature spring event Ooh La La!. Co-chairs Mary Ellen Graham and Kathy Schmidt, along with Club president Cyndy Ramadan, are making sure their May 14 luncheon lives up to its lofty name. But with the theme “Mrs. Kennedy Goes to Paris,” how can it not?
“Maggie Scott will completely get into the character of Mrs. Kennedy,” says Cyndy of the local actress who will impersonate one of America’s favorite first ladies, reenacting excerpts from several books written about Mrs. Kennedy’s travels through France. “Our guests will think Jackie Kennedy is actually there having lunch with them at the Deer Path Inn—she’s amazing!”
Lake Forest Woman’s Club has a number of community outreach programs from supporting veterans and the elderly to contributing to the Northern Illinois Food Bank, but its primary mission is to raise funds for education—both for college-bound seniors from Lake Forest High School and women returning to the classroom through Trinity University’s Reach to Teach program. Since 1929, the club has raised more than $450,000 in scholarships.
“In Lake Forest, you can join a lot of clubs,” Mary Ellen explains. “But this club has the fun and the giving back components in one place. What I love most about it is that it’s women helping women. That’s worth working for,” adds Mary Ellen.
And work they have. Mary Ellen and Kathy have chaired the Lake Forest Woman’s Club events for the last five years. Since then, they’ve named the two annual luncheons—Ooh La La! in the spring and Merry Mistletoe near the holidays, and expanded the luncheons to include a market and the Woman Among Us Award.
“What’s better than finding someone just like us—who we can all relate to—who has truly made lemonade from lemons?” asks Mary Ellen in speaking of the Woman Among Us Award. This year’s recipient, who will be the luncheon’s keynote speaker, is Ronnie Mudd, a mother of six from Libertyville and a foster mother to 45. “The list of what she does is this long,” she adds with outstretched arms. “She’s an ordinary woman who does extraordinary things. I love having her this year because she can connect with every woman in our club. She’s just like us.”
The idea of inclusivity is extremely important to these three, as they strive to make sure there’s something for everyone who belongs to the club or attends a club event. “Each woman is special and has something to offer,” Kathy says. “When Mary Ellen and I first started working on these luncheons, we did everything ourselves. But we learned if we asked people to help us, they feel more a part of the event and more connected to our organization,” she adds.
As well as connected to one another. “We’ve all become really good friends,” says Cyndy of the club’s 170 members. “You can’t underestimate the power of good girlfriends. That’s what we are. We need this network.”
At the luncheon, attendees will be treated to a market filled with items hand-picked by Mary Ellen and Kathy from the Merchandise Mart. “We know that ladies like to shop, so we added the French market a few years ago. We have lots of fun things that you won’t be able to find anywhere else—umbrellas, scarves, jewelry—it’s all great!” says Kathy.
In most clubs, chairing a signature event or being president is a one- or two-year job. But in the Lake Forest Woman’s Club, there’s no such thing as term limits. With Mary Ellen and Kathy planning club events indefinitely and Cyndy in her second stint at the club’s helm (her first stint lasted four years, she’s in year number two of stint two), there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.
“We’ll know when it’s time to step down—when it stops being fun,” says Mary Ellen. “I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”
To purchase a ticket to the Lake Forest Woman’s Club Ooh La La event on May 14, contact Carol Sarsfield, 847-283-9016.
–Ann Marie Scheidler // Illustration by Kirsten Ulve