Memories of the Exchange Club, Ribfest and more

Posted7/3/2012 8:59 AM
  • The Memories Fountain at Fredenhagen Park in downtown Naperville was dedicated in June 2004.

    The Memories Fountain at Fredenhagen Park in downtown Naperville was dedicated in June 2004. Daily Herald file photo

Isn't it amazing how vividly you remember the little details of the first time you do something?

Yet, when something becomes routine, particulars often fade into the big picture?

For instance, I'll never forget Jan. 1, 1993, and the ride from O'Hare Airport with my cousin, Candyce Krumwiede, for my first visit to Naperville.

Candy, who then lived in West Wind, had picked me up for a three-day house-hunting adventure. Our family of five was considering a move from Chatham, N.J. Even before we went to her home, we stopped on the Riverwalk where she shared its grass-roots story of community spirit.

I still reminisce about how incredibly beautiful it was to experience the Riverwalk for the first time at sunset, unaware that within minutes the Grand Illumination would surprise me, twinkling before us as I stood in awe near Main Street on New Year's Day.

We moved here within two months.

By May that year, I'd not only become a regular figure on the Riverwalk, I had begun an 18-month stint in the public relations department at Naper Settlement.

One afternoon Executive Director Peggy Frank introduced me to Rita and John Harvard, gracious and active members of the Naperville Heritage Society, who had come for a tour of the Pre-Emption House, still a re-creation in progress under the watchful eye of Naperville Historical Society board member Tom Bursh.

I also recall shortly thereafter when the message on the large Cock Robin Ice Cream sign in front of the landmark restaurant on Washington Street announced the death of Walter Fredenhagen, one of the founders/owners of the ice cream enterprise Prince Castle that later became Cock Robin.

That's when I first learned about Rita Fredenhagen Harvard's connection.

In July, I volunteered my first shift in the beer tent at the Exchange Club of Naperville's Ribfest with co-workers from Naper Settlement.

After leaving the settlement, I sometimes filled in as a receptionist at the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce where I first met Jan Erickson and Emy Trotz.

I also began creating marketing promotions for small independent businesses.

Time marched on and, by 1996, plans were set to extend the Riverwalk from the Washington Street Bridge to Hlllside Road and I joined the all-volunteer Riverwalk 2000 fundraising campaign. Selling commemorative brick pavers for $100 turned out to be a popular way to engage support, augmenting major donations for gardens, Rotary Plaza and the Jaycees Gazebo.

Our family ordered a brick to commemorate our move that says "Penwiedes connected here in 1993." Every time I walk by it, I'm reminded of the warm welcome I felt that first day on the Riverwalk.

Concurrently, the Riverwalk Commission had begun considering a park on the Cock Robin property that -- after the restaurant closed in 2000 -- would be gifted to the City of Naperville by Rita Harvard and Ted Fredenhagen in honor of their parents, Grace and Walter Fredenhagen.

Fast forward to 2002 when members of Exchange Club were organizing the 15th Ribfest. Mike Maher was chairman. Foreigner, Poi Dog Pondering and Dave Mason were featured Main Stage headliners. And the Exchange Club, chartered in 1987, already had raised $2 million dollars to help fight child abuse and domestic violence.

That same year, the Fredenhagen Park Campaign, co-chaired by Ed Channell and John Schmitt, began accepting donations for plazas, gardens, pillars and benches for the gateway park featuring a fountain as its centerpiece.

That's when the Exchange Club entered into a unique partnership with the Riverwalk Foundation, the group that serves as a conduit for funding Riverwalk enhancements. Over a period of six years, the Exchange Club committed to sell 600 commemorative bricks at $250 each and 40 granite stones at $2,500 each in order to raise $250,000 for the naming rights to the fountain at Fredenhagen Park.

Don Emery served as the first chairman of the Exchange Club Memories Fountain Committee. I recall his comments regarding supporters who viewed the chance to partner with the Riverwalk Foundation as a "rare one-time opportunity" for Exchange Club to make a visible contribution to the community.

Thanks to the dedication of club member Donna Sable who coordinated orders for bricks and stones, the Exchange Club exceeded its challenge. Today, the plaza surrounding Memories Fountain provides space for hundreds of engraved messages of faith, hope and charity, all for peaceful reflection.

As the Exchange Club of Naperville celebrates its 25th anniversary year, Walter Johnson is club president and Mark Wright is Ribfest chairman. During their grant allocations luncheon in March at Meson Sabika, attendees became mindful that the club now has raised more than $12 million for local social service agencies.

I'll always remember how Rita Harvard, who passed away on June 15, reiterated her wish for Fredenhagen Park to connect community spirit.

Thanks, Exchange Club, for helping to make it happen the first time.

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