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‘A Camaraderie of Purpose’

Members of the Service League of Crystal Lake lend a helping hand to local citizens through various annual fundraisers.


Many residents of McHenry County are familiar with the Service League Housewalk held in Crystal Lake every fall, but they might not about the dedication of the women behind it all.

Although they weren’t around in 1925 when the Service League of Crystal Lake was founded, Ellen Ebann, Bobbi O’Riordan and Betty Pakiz are the longest-serving members to date. Annually, these ladies and the rest of the Service League members provide immediate assistance to Crystal Lake residents and college scholarships to needy high school seniors from District 155.

A Common Goal

A member since 1979, Ellen Ebann has in fact been involved in the Service League the longest. “I enjoy it as much now as ever,” she said.

The other women that Ebann served with at the time are now a part of the associate list, a type of backburner where they are no longer active members, but can still help with the activities like the Housewalk when needed. With the ever-changing members and fundraisers, there is always something new to keep Ebann interested. “I love it,” said.

O’Riordan, a member since 1994, said that aside from having the common goal of wanting to help people, the group brings women together who otherwise would not have met.

“It’s a camaraderie of purpose,” added Pakiz , who’s been a member since 1993. “We need a few good, old bones to hold it together.”

Periodically, the 45 members meet at a member’s home to discuss their next move in the community. Their philanthropic work is classified under scholarship

and outreach, servicing specifically the Crystal Lake community. “We “We only can raise so much,” Ebann explained. “No matter how many you want to help, you can’t help them all.”

Something for Everyone

Some people are simply meant to help others from doctors and police officers to teachers and caretakers. These ladies are no exception. Their knack for giving back has always been in their blood. “You grow up with it; it’s generational,” O’Riordan said.

The Service League focuses on immediate care or helping families that are unable to afford food for the month, their electric bill, dentist work or have experienced damage from fires. For example, woman in the organization will then donate their old mattresses or clothing for those in need.

“A lot of people don’t realize how much need and want there is with kids [in particular],” Ebann said. Every Christmas when her son was little, she’d take him shopping and let him pick something he would like to receive. Then, she required that he buy that gift for a less fortunate child his age.

Her favorite project the Service League organized was allowing a disadvantaged girl to buy a new dress to wear at her eighth grade dance.

A project the ladies are still involved in includes interviewing about 125 Crystal Lake students in order to give out approximately 24 scholarships on a need basis.

“The hardest part is having to say no,” O’Riordan stated. “You want to give them to every kid that walks through the door.”

“They kill you,” Ebann added. “They are all worthy, needy and accomplished.”

Pakiz said there is so much that goes on behind the scenes and is often undetected by the public, including the length of time it takes to plan these projects. For example, the speaker and venue for the annual book talk next April has been booked since early this July.

Organizing the Housewalk

Scheduling the Housewalk is no exception to the league’s approach to planning. According to O’Riordan, the committee begins searching for new houses for the following Housewalk immediately after the current one is over.

O’Riordan said the chairwomen work year round to put together this event that by far raises the most money for the Service League.

“It has really evolved,” Ebann shared. “It used to be Christmas themed, so we used to decorate for the occasion, but now [the houses] speak for themselves.

“We still stage some of them, like bringing in things like center pieces from florists,” she continued, “but now some just want to show them in their natural state.”

The Housewalk has become just one of the well-known Crystal Lake traditions where friends meet to socialize and people from all over visit Crystal Lake, O’Riordan added.

“The end of Housewalk is a great feeling because you know you’re done,” Pakiz said. “We know we worked together and so hard on it and we did it.”

Growing Visibility

As with any nonprofit, it is the goal of the Service League to raise the most money possible. Seeing results and receiving letters from individuals they have helped not only puts smiles on their faces, but motivates them to do more.

O’Riordan believes that if everyone understood what was done with the money, they would get better attendance at fundraising events, as well as more support from the public.

“There is no overhead,” Ebann assured. “Every penny goes back to the community 100 percent of the time.”

If the ladies could change one thing, it would be their ability to help more people. “We would like to discover some type of event to roll in tons of money,” Pakiz said. “Or have an endless bank account.”

They spend much of their time brainstorming ideas of how to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. Events golf and tennis outings, multiple book talks, fashion shows and even an artisan fair.

Another change that has come about is that during Ebann’s membership, the League has increased from 40 to 45 members, which has helped to strengthen their abilities. However with the changing times, they are finding it more difficult for the members to show up to meetings and other events.

“It’s a challenge to get competent, dedicated women because [many women are balancing work and families],” Ebann said.

“People don’t have time to give a full commitment, so we adjust,” Pakiz added. And so far, so good.


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