Chamber works hard to make a comeback
Bensenville Chamber of Commerce President Rich Johnson watched the chamber's membership decline to a record low eight members three years ago.
As Lester Parks, treasurer, put it, "The chamber had atrophied."
The remaining handful of members believed the village needed a strong chamber to represent business interests and were determined to make a last-ditch effort to gain new members.
Their method? To tell their story walking.
Johnson, Patti Steffensen, Oronzo Peconio and several other chamber members hit the streets and began calling on area businesses door-to-door to encourage owners to come back.
"It was a slow process," Johnson said. "We literally drove up and down village streets, knocking on doors, to let people know we still existed and to encourage them to join us."
To Johnson's delight, over time the strategy paid off.
"Now we're up to 70 members and we plan to keep on going," he said. "Our goal is 100 members by next year."
As often happens when Bensenville civic leaders look to the future, the conversation takes a detour to the village's fight over O'Hare International Airport expansion.
"That's still a cloud over our head," Johnson said. "The chamber represents all business interests in Bensenville. We know some members will be positively affected and some will be negatively affected by airport growth, so we don't take a political stand. On the subject of O'Hare expansion, we just keep our members informed."
In other areas, however, the chamber is much more proactive, Johnson said.
"We've become a very active chamber," he said. "This year we put on a golf outing fundraiser with the Bensenville Rotary to benefit the food pantry. We hosted the Fourth of July parade along with the Kiwanis Club and the village."
In September, the chamber welcomed new teachers to the district with a New Teacher Breakfast. In October, an awards dinner honored outstanding village volunteers.
Those honored volunteers included Volunteers of the Year Val Karg, Jan Crowe, Nancy Quinn, Tyrone Kalogeresis and Patti Johnson for organizing the 2007 Fourth of July parade.
The Business Person of the Year Award was given to Colleen McEvoy of Hair Shapers in Bensenville. Jill Rodriguez, director of the Bensenville Community Public Library, received the Community Service Award, and Sean Newman was named Youth Volunteer of the Year.
But wait, there's more.
Motivational speaker Joe Takash will discuss Five Keys to Service Excellence at a chamber program at 11 a.m. Thursday at Monty's Banquets, 703 S. York Road, Bensenville. Johnson said the presentation was made possible by a grant from Robert Morris College.
"People from the college came to us and said they would sponsor a speaker for us if we marketed the program," Johnson said.
"Joe Takash is an energetic speaker and we're looking forward to hearing his program. The entire community is invited, and we're excited about establishing another great partnership, this time with Robert Morris College."
Johnson and Parks encourage area business members to attend an upcoming chamber event and see what it's all about.
"It's a fun group that really represents businesses in the community," Parks said. "In some villages, civic groups break off into their separate domains. Not in Bensenville. This village is unique because leaders from all the civic organizations come together to achieve great results for the community."
Tickets for the chamber's event Thursday cost $25 per person. For details about the chamber/rotary holiday lunch or future events, call the chamber at (630) 860-3800.