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posted: 11/13/2013 4:04 PM

Charity ball marks 125th anniversary

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  • From left, ball co-chairwoman Mary Ellen Beckmann, Elgin Mayor David Kaptain, ball co-chairwoman Linda O'Connor and Fideliter Club President Brenda Morrissy pose with a replica of the Elgin Tower Building. Sponsors for notable Elgin buildings are being sought as part of this year's fundraiser.

      From left, ball co-chairwoman Mary Ellen Beckmann, Elgin Mayor David Kaptain, ball co-chairwoman Linda O'Connor and Fideliter Club President Brenda Morrissy pose with a replica of the Elgin Tower Building. Sponsors for notable Elgin buildings are being sought as part of this year's fundraiser.
    Courtesy of Elgin Fideliter Club

  • The National House was the site of the first charity ball in 1888.

      The National House was the site of the first charity ball in 1888.
    Courtesy of Elgin History Museum

 

One of Elgin's oldest and most prestigious charity balls is about to turn 125 years old. The annual Fideliter Club ball to be held on Saturday, Nov. 16, will not only mark a milestone in the group's history, but will continue the tradition of a well-known community event that benefits needy children and women.

And this year, to bolster fundraising and make the occasion even more historic, members are inviting the community to sponsor small replicas of some of the city's most notable buildings.

According to club scrapbooks donated to the Elgin History Museum, the Fideliter Club's annual ball traces its roots to the Elgin Coffee Club which began in 1882. Organized by 14 women "for mutual pleasure," the group was originally social in nature. Eventually it would become more philanthropic in its mission.

In December 1885 the Elgin Coffee Club sponsored a charity ball. Held at the Elgin National Watch Company's National House, it was a "rough foreboding night on which to be out-of-doors," newspapers said.

The formal event was "one of the finest ever assembled in the city." Over 250 people had joined the evening's festivities which included the Grand March, Irish Trot, and heel and toe dances. Over $350 was raised -- quite a tidy sum for the time.

About the same time the Elgin Coffee Club began, a group of younger women organized the Entre Nous Club. The women who were all "prominent in social circles" did a charity ball "in a quiet way." In 1894 the Entre Nous Club became the Fideliter Club, a name suggested by one of the members.

In 1902, the Elgin Coffee Club -- which was made up primarily of older members -- turned control of the charity ball over to the Fideliter Club. Another name change took place years later in 1949 when the Fideliter Club turned over operation of the charity ball to the Alpha Pi Phi Sorority. In 1956 the Alpha Pi Phi Sorority, once affiliated with Elgin High School, took over the Fideliter Club name when it was relinquished by the original group.

While the group has gone through various name changes, there has been one constant throughout the years -- raising money for the needy. Club scrapbooks show that in its earlier days the group supported the Larkin Home which is now the Larkin Center; the Old People's Home, now the Oak Crest Residence, and provided a "free bed" at Sherman Hospital.

The club also bought coal for needy families and provided "direct relief" to others. Other beneficiaries of the club's generosity over the years include Community Crisis Center, the Elgin Day Care Center, and the Easter Seal Center.

During the past year the club has assisted the Little Angels, Cal's All Star Angels, and the Boys and Girls Club of Elgin. Still others who have benefited from their support include Centro de Informacion, the Ecker Center, Feeding Greater Elgin, Girl Scouts, the Literacy Connection, Senior Services, United Way, Well Child and the YWCA.

But, one of the longest lasting programs is one begun during the Depression -- to provide milk to needy children in Elgin schools. The program still continues today by providing donations to the milk fund at the Elgin Child and Family Resource Center and the developmental and bilingual preschool programs in Elgin Area School District U-46.

Another constant has been the charity ball's long-standing reputation as one of the community's premier social events of the year. While the group has rotated its gala at various country clubs in the area over recent decades, this year's event will be held at the Elgin Country Club.

While velvets, silks, and flowing chiffons for the women and tuxedos for the men are still the attire for the evening, this year's guests are invited to don vintage clothing to celebrate the 125th anniversary. Continuing the long tradition, many will still dance well into the evening.

A unique backdrop for the ball will be a number of Elgin's older historic buildings including the Elgin Tower Building, "Old Main," the Teeple Barn, and the Elgin Watch Factory. Recreated from drawings by artist Warren Mogler and Chuck Cassell and illuminated by Italian light, these authentic images will be mounted on foam board with some standing up to five feet tall.

The historic replicas displayed with the name of the individual or business sponsoring it will be theirs to take home after the ball. All profits this year will benefit "Elgin's needy children and women," note ball invitations.

"We are happy to be reaching such a milestone in the group's history. All are welcome to attend this year's historic celebration," said ball co-chairwoman Linda O'Connor. For details or reservations, call Mary Ellen Beckmann at (847) 697-1085.

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