Set against the lush backdrop of the Chicago Botanic Garden, the Women’s Leadership Committee (WLC) of the Illinois Holocaust Museum broke all previous records when it raised $350,000 at its annual Soirée fundraiser.
The Sept. 1 event drew 325 guests who were thrilled to be in person at the party, which had been held virtually in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were so excited to be together again in-person and raise funds for Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education’s important mission,” said Juliet Gray, Women’s Leadership Committee co-president.
“It was a beautiful evening and a magical setting,” adds WLC co-president Caroline Pfeffer.
The night’s events
Media personality and social columnist, Candace Jordan, emceed the event that kicked off with a special tribute to the late museum president and Holocaust survivor Fritzie Fritzshall, featuring remarks from ABC Chicago’ Alan Krashevsky and Governor JB Pritzker.
Guests were then teleported to the museum for a virtual tour with Melissa Forman, host of “Melissa Forman in the Morning” on 93.9 LITE FM, who shared a sneak peek of the museum’s soon-to-open Virtual Reality exhibition which, as the Holocaust Survivor population dwindles, will preserve survivor stories. The virtual exhibit will ensure the museum will continue to engage audiences, and will provide critical content and teach the lessons of the Holocaust which continue to be relevant today.
“With racism and social injustice in today’s headlines, connecting the lessons of the Holocaust to present day continues to be as urgent as ever,” said Museum CEO Susan Abrams. “While the museum is focused on education and awareness, social events such as the Soirée are another way to work toward our mission.”
Fundraiser supports the museum’s mission
The annual benefit raises funds to support the museum’s mission to combat hatred, prejudice, and indifference, and to inspire visitors to become Upstanders who speak out for what’s right – turning powerful lessons of history into positive actions today.
As the night continued, guests were treated to a surprise video appearance from actor and comedian, Henry Winkler, followed by live music from the Not-for-Profit Band. In between sumptuous hors d’oeuvres and creative cocktails, guests bought raffle tickets and bid on silent auction items such as a trip to the Hotel del Cornado, a legendary beach resort near San Diego.
During her remarks, WLC co-president Pfeffer thanked Gray for her years of service as outgoing co-president.
Funds support exhibits, students and law enforcement training
The WLC specifically earmarked funds from the event to support upcoming special exhibitions, field trips to the museum (both virtual and in-person) and enable students from under-served communities to visit the museum.
“We traditionally fund student scholarships that allow schools to visit the museum in-person or virtually,” Pfeffer said. “It’s always so exciting to be in the museum when the school buses arrive. There is a buzz. But, for a lot of students on these tours, what they learn, in many cases for the first time, can be overwhelming for them.”
While it is a difficult subject, “we should never forget why the Holocaust happened and how it happened,” Pfeffer says. “We try to transfer this knowledge to each student and encourage them to find their own voice and to stand up and take action.”
The event also funds the museum’s Law Enforcement Action and Democracy (LEAD) Training, which is a professional development training program designed to foster ethical law enforcement, increase officers’ effectiveness and enhance community-policing relations.
Fritzie Fritzshall remembered
While the museum pursues a somber mission, the Soirée contained many moments of joy including bringing supporters together and simply enjoying the beautiful weather which some guests attributed to the previous museum president and WLC member Fritzie Fritzshall.
“The weather was a ten,” said Fagenholz. “It could not have been more spectacular for the event. We all kind of attributed it to Fritzie watching down on us. We said ‘Yep. The weather is perfect because Fritzie is watching down on us and making sure everything is going as she would like.’”
The Women’s Leadership Committee (WLC) was formed 12 years ago with the goal of increasing awareness for the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. The committee provides fundraising support to the museum with a focus on educational programming. Past sponsored events include book and author discussions, film screenings, private exhibition openings, art discussions, and more.
The Illinois Holocaust Museum Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center honors the survivors and victims of the Holocaust and transforms history into current, relevant, and universal lessons in humanity. It hosts world-class exhibitions and programs, and provides a universal wake-up call to action: Take history to heart. Take a stand for humanity.
The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. through 5 p.m., with last entrance at 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.ilholocaustmuseum.org or call 847-967-4800.
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Annemarie Mannion is a freelance writer and former reporter for the Chicago Tribune. She earned a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University and a degree in English Literature from St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. She is especially passionate about covering nonprofits. Whether writing about work to reduce the harmful effects of bright lights on sea turtles or covering volunteers’ efforts to address the health care needs of children in Guatemala, she loves spreading the word about initiatives that have the potential to change the world for the better.