As Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce members and supporters gather Friday evening to mark the organization's 100th anniversary, they're not celebrating a century of a place or a service or an idea, but of people.
Thousands of them have attended chamber events, joined as business members, ascended to leadership positions or even taken the reins of the board since the group was formed in 1913 as the Naperville Association of Commerce.
"It's the people that made the chamber," said Emy Trotz, who served on the chamber's staff from 1985 to 1996 and now is executive assistant to Naperville Mayor George Pradel.
The Naperville Area Chamber has 1,500 members from across northern Illinois, giving it a regional character and, leaders say, a broad sphere of influence.
Chamber staff members say people like Bev Patterson Frier, Brien Nagle, Rosemary Macko Wisnosky, Dick Kuhn, Tom Miers, Mary Ann and Brand Bobosky and the Anderson family are just a few members and leaders from the past six decades who make the chamber what it is today.
"It's an advocate for the little guy," said Kuhn, the chamber's president in 1991, a lifelong Naperville resident and a lawyer in town. "You need a voice of business to advocate, whether it's locally or state or federal, in terms of regulation and law and policy."
Frier, 82, says she's among the chamber's longest tenured members. She joined in 1966 when she launched her own business selling pianos and organs in the city's downtown, and she remembers a time when she won a color TV while shopping in pajamas at a chamber event called Midnight Madness in 1965. Considered a "legacy member" now because she's retired, Frier still is a fixture at many chamber luncheons.
"I stay a member of the chamber because that's where you find out what's going on," she said.
The chamber also is where newcomers can find a who's who of Naperville. Such an introduction on how to do business in town was for many years offered formally through the Community Leadership Program Nagle started in 1983 when he was chamber president.
"It gave opportunities for new people in town or young people to get a complete flavor and feel of the community and touch base with people in leadership," Nagle said.
The chamber also started Business After Hours that year to offer networking and allow merchants to show off their shops. The events continue 30 years later.
When Wisnosky led the chamber in 1988, she focused on increasing offerings for small businesses. As owner of Re/Max Affiliates, she thought the chamber could do more to help small business owners by gathering them to share knowledge and eventually creating the Small Business of the Year award.
Hitchcock Design Group was the first small business to be recognized with the award in 1998, and 2006 winner My Chef Catering went on to win the U.S. Chamber Small Business of the Year Award in 2007, which Wisnosky said really put the Naperville chamber on the map.
The organization in the late 1990s began a push to gather 2,000 members by 2000, hitting the mark before the end of the year. Recruiting sought businesses both in Naperville and across the region, said Jane Abe, former membership director.
"We wanted to stay in step with a growing community and be a leader among chambers," Kuhn said.
The chamber moved into its current office at 55 S. Main St. in 2004, ramped up its legislative advocacy and in 2006 received 5-Star accreditation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The chamber was reaccredited at the 5-Star level in 2011 as one of only 75 across the nation to achieve that status.
Friday's free event, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St., takes place during the Naper Nights concert series featuring Gecko Club, which covers 1990s and 2000s alternative rock including the Gin Blossoms, Goo Goo Dolls and Green Day, opening for Bruce Springsteen tribute band Michael McDermott & The Duke Street Kings.
The chamber encourages online registration at naperville.net to ensure admission to the event celebrating 100 years of promoting business growth.
"It's really wonderful to see the evolution of a humble beginning," Wisnosky said.