BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Two volunteers with a dream can accomplish anything—that’s a Junior League of Chicago premise proven many times over its 104-year history.
Even still, dazzling leaders Liz Sharp and Nancy Boynton needed to do a little convincing when they came up with the extraordinary idea for a benefit thirty years ago. The lofty idea they dreamed up featured legendary bands (including the Drifters), a huge location to fill, and the expectation of over 1,000 guests to make it work. League leaders took a chance, gave their okay, and things went off without a hitch. Even a major snowstorm that evening didn’t stop the partygoers from gathering.
Three decades later, Soiree on the Shore stands as the League’s most successful ongoing party in its history. Somewhere along the way, it was decided the party was so fantastic it deserved two dates on the social calendar. Now, the JLC hosts a pair of these chic Soirees yearly.
This year’s warm weather event, held on August 26, was honored as the 20th Anniversary of the Summer Soiree—the event wasn’t held annually from its inception until more recent years—and dubbed “A Chic Evening in White.”
Elegant Leaguers and their guests dressed in summer whites dancing along to the DJ’s beats exemplified the mix of glamor and liveliness of the Soiree that Sharp and Boynton hoped to capture decades ago.
Liz recalled how she and Nancy created Soiree and shared with us memories of that first iteration of the now-beloved party:
“At the time, the Junior League had a black-tie dinner dance, which we thought was too expensive for younger members to attend. We wanted a fun, fancy, affordable fundraiser.
“In a dramatic change with past presentations, our group put together a sophisticated proposal for the Board making our case for Soiree, complete with a detailed budget and tables reflecting projected profits.
“This was at a time when the membership was changing from mostly non-working members to members with jobs, law degrees, and MBAs. It was a hard sale at first.
“Our ticket price was $45, and the party was set for mid-January. With reservations pouring in, we expanded the event to two ballrooms at the South Shore Country Club. Our main band was the Original Drifters. We also hired a local group of musicians, the Sharps and the Flats, who played swing music in a second ballroom.
“A snowstorm hit the night of the party, but we got enough buses and our partygoers were undeterred. Over 1000 guests came—the coatroom ran out of hangers!
“I made long and lasting friendships with everyone on the Soiree Committee. It thrills us that the legacy of the Soiree continues and that it has continued to raise funds these many years for the important work the Junior League does in the Chicago community.”
This year’s chairs Allie Leemputte and Kate Lattner took Soiree to a new location this year, Revel Fulton Market, and selected some casual menu items (think: BBQ) from Limelight Catering’s extensive repertoire to keep the atmosphere fresh and fun. Terrific prizes that evening included a Mexican getaway from SON Escapes.
“The Summer Soiree committee, 25 women strong, spends the entire year planning this event. Each of our signature events is paired with one of our community partners to showcase just how the money that is raised through the event is used in the community.
“Summer Soiree 2016 was paired with Traffick Free, a faith-motivated organization that provides tools and sustainable programs to combat human trafficking. The League works with Traffick Free at its drop-in center for adult females, meeting critical needs such as shelter, social services, showers, clothes, and laundry.
“Through partnership with Soiree, we hope to bring an increased awareness to this important issue, as well as raise funding to support our work with the children of partners in the community.”
“In 2015 alone, the Junior League of Chicago volunteered more than 60,000 hours of service to the Chicago community, served over 15,000 women and children, and supported issues ranging from education and healthy lifestyles to fighting human trafficking.”
Both Kate and Allie have worked on numerous League community projects through Done in a Day efforts. These service projects allow volunteers to choose between dozens of opportunities throughout the city, including the Ronald McDonald House, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Chicago Public Library, to staff 63 events occurring on a single day. Ruth Gallagher Nelson is the current League President (learn more about Ruth here).
Giorgio Marcenaro Photography