Summerfest means music, friendship and fellowship
Philippa Bolton (from left), Eileen Hutchinson and Bill Bolton socialize during the St. Xavier Summerfest . | Jerry Daliege~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 14, 2012 1:42PM
WILMETTE — In a summer of bravura Olympian ceremonies and blockbuster movies, it’s easy to forget that there are other ways to celebrate life; smaller, warmer, and with just a little more heart.
At Wilmette’s St. Francis Xavier School, some tired but happy volunteers can attest to the deep joy one can find in homegrown celebrations.
Last month, they successfully hosted the school’s sixth annual Summerfest. The Aug. 25 event was a fundraiser for the pre K-8, century-old school at 808 Linden Ave., and did very nicely, organizers say.
But Summerfest has always done more than raise money, 2012 co-chair Suzy McNamara said Aug. 20 as she dealt with last-minute preparations. Fest patrons, all 21 and older, come to listen to bands, get out on the dance floor and eat while they enjoy the music.
“That’s what’s neat about it,” McNamara said. “It has the feel of a community block party. People love to have a good time, and if you bring the fun, they will come.”
Music is a key ingredient, because the first festival was organized by a group of school parents who missed being able to attend Chicago-style block parties where music is a major draw.
“We have a lot of music lovers in our parish, so it’s definitely a celebration of who we are,” McNamara added.
Summerfest founders hoped to recoup their expenses, and were surprised to find the event actually made money, volunteer Jen Marino said. It’s enjoyed similar success in succeeding years. McNamara said the fest raised an estimated $12,000 for the school in 2011 and attracted hundreds of happy party-goers. This year upwards of 350 people walked through the door.
It’s opportunity for school parents to reconnect with each other at the end of the summer, and for parish or school newcomers to introduce themselves, McNamara and Marino said. Yet, not everyone who comes to the fest is a parent or parishioner; the event also draws attendees from across the North Shore.
“People from downtown and from other suburbs, from up and down the North Shore, come to hear the music and to dance, which makes us really happy,” McNamara said.
Rev. William Sheridan, St. Francis’ pastor, agreed last week. He’s met many fest-goers from outside Wilmette, he said.
“It’s a great way for people to become part of the parish, but it’s also a great mixer for the community in general.”
Work on Summerfest has always been a grass-roots effort. Marino said she found volunteers thanking her for being able to be part of the team this year.
“When everyone’s shift was up, I’d make sure to say ‘Thank you for working,’ and to a person everybody said, ‘Are you kidding? This is fun! It’s how I see all my friends.’ That was amazing,” she said.
McNamara, who worked with co-chair Amy Zern, praised all the volunteers for making the event a success for all the attendees, including what she called an army of parish dads who arrived hours before the 6 p.m. start time to set up.
What she will carry away from this year’s festival is the dance floor.
“It was just mobbed. We had people on the dance floor who were well into their 80s. It was like a huge family wedding. It was family.”