About 400 area businesspeople and local dignitaries packed Naper Settlement Friday night to celebrate the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce’s centennial.
Chamber CEO Mike Evans stood in the big tent packed with Chamber memorabilia and displays, noting milestones in the Chamber’s history.
“There’s no book on how to celebrate 100 years,” he said. “One of the main things to understand is that it took a lot of courage as people to get here.”
The organization began in 1913 as the Naperville Association of Commerce and didn’t switch to its present name until 1947.
By 1917, the Chamber was active in improving the city’s streets and sidewalks and helping to organize the Naperville Sanatorium, forerunner of today’s Edward Hospital.
The Chamber’s annual dues in 1924 were a whopping $2, and two years later, the organization began advocating for the formation of the Naperville Park District, although it wasn’t officially formed until 1966.
More recent accomplishments include the Chamber “Ambassadors Club” to help increase membership (1970), partnering with North Central College to found a community leadership program (1983), being recognized as a Five Star Chamber by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2006) and helping to bring Navistar to the Naperville area (2010).
Beyond milestone achievements, Evans pointed out the past leaders that helped shape Naperville’s civic character.
“It’s amazing to look at the list of the board presidents,” he said. “You’ll notice that schools and parks were named after some of these people.”
Indeed, anyone familiar with Naperville would recognize the names Harold Moser, developer and founder of the Naperville Sun (Harold Moser Millennium Tower and Carillon); Alfred Rubin, longtime Naperville restauranteur and caterer (Alfred Rubin Riverwalk Community Center); Ralph Beebe, Superintendent of Schools from 1927 to 1958 and founder of Beebe Elementary School; and William Knoch, owner of the Knoch Cigar Company (Knoch Knolls Nature Center).
Members were were only too happy to praise the Chamber on its centennial.
“They’ve been a tremendous partner for the Park District,” Mike Reilly, Park Board member and past president of the board, said. “We rely on them.”
Illinois State Rep. Darlene Senger (R-Naperville) has twice won the Chamber’s Spirit of Enterprise Award for supporting the business community in the Illinois General Assembly.
“They know their priority is to support the community,” she said of Chamber members.
Senger also said that not-for-profit groups were a strong presence in the Naperville Chamber and she stressed the unusual nature of an organization serving commercial endeavors to be concerned with non-profits.
Reilly noted that for many years, it seemed that the Chamber was pursuing growth in the community for its own sake, but detected a recent change in focus for the group.
“They’re trying to do more for the members now,” he said. “They are part of the fabric of Naperville.”
Adam Russo operates Edgewood Clinical Services, providing social work service in the area.
“The Chamber is a great opportunity to network,” he said. “Everyone here is invested in other businesses in Naperville being successful.”
Although Chamber officials feel justifiably proud of its past record, they noted the importance of adapting to changing conditions.
“Are we satisfied that we can advocate on behalf of our businesses everywhere,” Evans said was the question to be answered. “If we’re not doing that, we’re just throwing parties.”
Current Chamber Board Chairman Cathy Subber agreed, and stressed the importance of coming to grips with new technology.
“This organization was always very connected,” she said. “It was where people went to find out what was going on in the community.”
Subber, a chiropractor and founder of Advanced Health of Naperville, noted the importance of Internet marketing and how quickly word spreads online, contributing to consumers forming opinions about local businesses, both negative and positive.
“The information is instant,” she said. “Businesses have to pay attention to customer service...you have to raise your game.”