Woman’s Club of Wilmette Reopens 6 Years After Devastating Fire

Seeing was believing when the community got a look at the rehabilitated Woman’s Club of Wilmette in October.

Six-plus years after the historic building at 930 Greenleaf Ave. burned nearly to the ground, club leadership opened the doors for a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by the Wilmette-Kenilworth Chamber of Commerce.

“Congrats to the members who worked so hard to get this up and running and to be a space for the entire community,” Wilmette Village President Senta Plunkett said at the ceremony.

That community helped the club raise $2.5 million to fund Phase 1 of the rehab project, which rebuilt most of the building, according to Donna Bliss, the co-chairwoman of the club’s development and fundraising committee.

Phase 1, including the fundraising and construction, took about three and a half years, but Covid-19 precautions kept the community at-large from seeing the work until now.

Longtime club members Barbara Roberson and Janet Marsh were on hand to check out the new digs.

Roberson praised the club’s hard work and perseverance in the face of such adversity, while Marsh said she is looking forward to a lot of good times in the new facilities.

The Woman’s Club of Wilmette debuted 130 years ago in 1891. According to its website, the club was instrumental in the development of the park district, library, local PTOs, the League of Women Voters and more.

In the past decade, the site says, the club donated more than $400,000 in cash and in kind to community organizations.

A fire broke out at the building the morning of Feb. 17, 2015. At the time, a space heater was the suspected cause of the blaze, according to sources on the scene that day; however, an official cause was never determined by local fire officials.

The flames engulfed much of the southern half of the building and caused extensive damage throughout.

While the club’s auditorium on the northern half held, it suffered severe smoke and fire damage. The auditorium was separated from Phase 1 fundraising, and Bliss said the club hopes to raise $3 million to rehab it in Phase 2.

During the pandemic, the woman’s club hosted virtual events and helped operate the Community Caretakers Program, which did everything from check in on homebound residents to find and schedule vaccines for community members.

The club is back to hosting events, including renting its facilities to outside parties, and it is actively seeking members and funders for the next steps in the rebuild project.

“We are really basking in the legacy and our membership,” Bliss said. “We are definitely looking to further and continue to be a major force in the community.”

This article originally appeared in The Record North Shore, a local news nonprofit.

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