Perhaps it was the unusually warm weather, or maybe it was just the community responding to the future fate of Our Lady of the Ridge Elementary School in Chicago Ridge.
Whatever the reason, alumni, business and community leaders, and parents of students who currently attend the school came out in droves Sunday afternoon for a fundraiser at 115 Bourbon Street in Merrionette Park In an effort to keep Our Lady of the Ridge open.
Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar, a 1967 graduate of Our Lady of the Ridge, has been working with a committee to keep Our Lady of the Ridge from closing. The Chicago Archdiocese informed the school administration on Jan. 11 that Our Lady of the Ridge was in danger of closing if not enough money could be raised and enrollment figures remained stagnant at the end of this month.
Tokar said a committee has been getting the word out and the fundraiser held Sunday was going to be important in reaching their goals. But even the mayor said the crowd that showed up exceeded expectations.
“This is just amazing,” Tokar said at the fundraiser. “”I know we would have a lot of support but this is incredible. There are just so many people here. I even saw my old fourth-grade teacher.”
Tokar said that school was required to raise over $250,000 at the end of February. He said he believes the goal has been reached.
Laurie Seweryn, who served as a volunteer at the fundraiser helping to organize the baskets of gifts being raffled off, also said the response from people was greater than expected. She said over 850 tickets were sold by late in the afternoon.
“This is so overwhelming, the community has really come together,” said Seweryn, whose husband, Steve, is on the school board.
Musical entertainment was provided by a band performing as the Blues Brothers, who also happen to be alums of Our Lady of the Ridge. The Lavin-Cassidy Irish Dancers, who are based out of Chicago Ridge, also entertained the crowd. The Chicago Police Department’s The Pipes and Drums of the Emerald Society also performed at the benefit, along with the Rico Quinn Band.
Eleven restaurants and bakeries provided food for the large crowd. The basket raffle included 102 different prizes at the event.
Mary Grisolano, media relations volunteer and graduate of Our Lady of the Ridge, said the large crowd that attended the fundraiser on Sunday is reason for optimism.
“The turnout on Sunday was tremendous,” said Grisolano. “This is really great, for sure.”
Grisolano added that the enrollment had to be at least 114 by the end of the month, according to the archdiocese. She said they currently have 117 students enrolled and expects those numbers to rise.
Some volunteers said during the event that at least $300,000 has been raised this past month, which is more than the required $250,000. And Grisolano confirmed later in the week that at least $321,000 was raised, far surpassing the goal.
“Some people are waiting to see what will happen with the school,” Grisolano said. “What usually occurs is there is always a surge in enrollment during the spring. I expect more families will enroll their children at Our Lady of the Ridge.”
Tokar said the local business community has assisted in keeping Our Lady of the Ride open. A phone-a-thon has been held to inform residents of the importance of Our Lady of the Ridge. The mayor conveyed not only to alumni but also residents and community leaders who may not have attended the school of how important it is to Chicago Ridge.
Our Lady of the Ridge has served 12 school districts and draws pupils from Alsip and Worth. If the school were to close, it would have a negative effect on businesses in the area, the mayor said.
But Tokar was in great spirits at the fundraiser and is confident about Our Lady of the Ridge’s chances.
“I can’t believe how many people came out today,” Tokar said. “It just shows you how many people care for this school.”
Temperatures in the 60s may have encouraged more people to come out. But Grisolano said it was more than that.
“People love our little school,” she said.