Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce: What was your inspiration for starting Gifted?
Megan Stockton: I had been creating and producing gifts and selling things since I was 12. I ended up going to school for graphic design and then worked in the advertising and consulting world. I was still producing things for friends and family…and they wanted to buy those things to give as gifts to others, so it happened pretty organically. I started the business out of my house for four years, until we were bursting at the seams. Then we had space in West Lake Forest for five years. We eventually outgrew that and our production needs increased, so we moved to East Lake Forest where we are now.
It’s a labor of love…I just can’t stop making stuff, and I love the production side of things! I love taking a product and embellishing it, or personalizing it and then, with that product, solve a problem for a customer--such as a gift for a wedding or a significant event in someone’s life. On the business-to-business side, we solve branding issues and provide products for [business] events. We do the majority of our production in-house. We have the ability to laser, embroider, vinyl and print in order to embellish our products.
It’s so fun for me. I get to do what I love, in the community that I love, and be near my kids, without having to commute very far. I also get to work with a lot of people that I really like--it's a great team of people that make up the Gifted family.
LFLBC: What is your business vision for Gifted?
MS: We’re not really selling gifts, we’re selling customer service, so our vision is to be a one-stop-shop for people. I often hear customers say, “I can get everything I need here…a birthday gift for a friend, something for my daughter, something for someone who just lost a parent, and I found something nice for myself, too.”
We buy as much as we can that is made in the USA, items produced by women-run businesses and products that are ethically-made. Even the paper we wrap in is recycled. We try to be environmentally responsible and recycle everything we can. We try to be a resource for the community, support local fundraisers, and we’re also a place for people to gather. The difference between us and Amazon is that you can’t touch it or smell it or have personal interaction when you shop on Amazon. Here you can. We all need Amazon, but we also need personal interaction. We encourage kids to stop by on their way home from school. They are well behaved, and it’s nice for them to feel respected and that they have a place to go. We’re that corner store where you run into people you know. A number of times people have made connections here, and that is pretty magical. We want to create infectious happiness, because it’s better that way. Those small moments can change a lot of people’s days.
LFLBC: What is one thing you want your customers to know about Gifted?
MS: We’re part of your community. We’re from Lake Forest, and we live here. I moved here when I was nine! We’re a local family and we want to earn your business. The dollars you spend in this community stay here, and we have a vested interest in this community. I’d love people to give us a try if they haven’t.
LFLBC: What is your most successful business initiative?
MS: Great communication with our customers. From an operations standpoint, buying an iPad and using it to communicate with our customers has been amazing. Since we do custom work, we use the iPad to photograph the item before we wrap it, and send a picture of it to the customer, so they can see it and we can let them know it is ready. The iPad gives us one point of contact with customers and then it also serves as a digital photo album of all the products we have created over the years. Oftentimes a customer will look through our photos and find something they like and want us to re-create it for them.
LFLBC: What other local businesses do you collaborate with?
MS: We work with the schools, including the High School Boosters. We’ve done things for LoMastro, GEM Financial Advisors...many more. And there is one customer that I can’t mention, as we’re currently doing a re-branding for them.
Personally, I’m a loyal shopper at the Lake Forest Book Store…Max always has a great recommendation for me! I love Market House…Carla is terrific, and we used their upstairs room for my father’s memorial. I love Caputo’s…I’m there to get food quite often.
LFLBC: How does Gifted give back to the community?
MS: We love to support local organizations through donations for events like auctions, but what we really enjoy is hosting events at the shop to help raise money for an organization. We call it ‘Gifted Gives Back.’ We give 10% of our sales for that day to the organization. We did one for the [Lake Forest High School] Foundation, we recently did one for the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff LDA (Learning Disabilities Association). I think it’s really fun to get people together in the spirit of raising money for local organizations. I like a good party…I’m always happy to host a party for a non-profit organization.
Also, we’ve had a number of teams with the Business Incubator class at the High School come in and talk with us about their product or service. I offer feedback on its viability and tell them what I would do.
LFLBC: Anything else you'd like to share?
MS: Come see us during the Lake Forest Sidewalk Sale! We’ll have some exciting standard Sidewalk Sales stuff, and also some great specials. We’ll have half of the store moved outside and we have a nice covered area right in front.
For business owners—come talk to us about collaboration. There is more to Gifted than you may know. We have so much more than what you see on the floor in the store. We’d love to collaborate with you!
Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce:
What was your inspiration for starting Deka Lash?
Bette Anne Duffy: I reached a stage in life where my son was off in school and I wanted to go back to work to keep myself busy. My background is in marketing and advertising, particularly on the advertising agency side and in the ten years that I had been out of the business, being a full-time mom, I sort of aged-out of that environment.
So, I developed a hobby that was my passion for a very long time and it was competitive ballroom dancing! So, I kind of dove into that as if it was a career. I was always an amateur, never a professional. But I traveled all over North America and competed almost every weekend. And when you compete, everything is over the top…the makeup, the hair, the costuming…for a reason--because you don’t just dance with your body, you dance with your facial expressions, and your emotion. All ballroom dancers wear crazy strip lashes, so that you can convey emotions to the judges at the other end of the ballroom floor as well as to spectators way up in the nosebleed seats. I got to the point where I really started to like how I looked with these caterpillars that I would glue on my eyelids! I felt like when I was on the floor and competing I was beautiful, strong, powerful and energetic. But when I would come home and just make a run to the Jewel for eggs, I didn’t feel as beautiful and powerful. I realized the difference was my lashes of all things!
At the time, I had a friend who just finished aesthetic school and she learned about this brand-new thing called eyelash extensions. She used me as her guinea pig and then started a business out of her home. I became absolutely hooked and addicted to those lash extensions! She lived far away, so I went along the North Shore looking for an alternative…someone who did good work at a reasonable price. One week before Thanksgiving, I was at a location and I kept hearing the reception phone ringing off the hook and the receptionist actually turning away customers because they didn’t have the capacity to handle the business. My marketing brain kicked in and I thought there is an unmet need here.
That’s when I thought there might be a business opportunity here on the North Shore. But I considered, if I bring this business forward, I really don’t want it to be something that costs and arm and a leg, or just for the wealthy, or just for a special occasion. I came across the founder of Deka Lash, Jennifer Blair, who is a wonderful human being. She is based in Pittsburgh, where she had four studios and she was doing gangbusters there. She had just decided to franchise. My husband and I went in as business partners. We were the sixth entity that signed on to be a Deka Lash franchisee. Our first two locations (in Glenview and Lake Forest) are the first and second Deka Lash locations in Illinois, and are currently the highest volume producing studios in the country. We are planning to open two more.
LFLBC: What is your business vision?
Bette Anne: Really, it’s the empowerment of women. Making women feel beautiful, strong, empowered, in control of their lives. When you walk out of here…it’s almost like an episode of Fixer Upper, where the houses have good bones, but then magic is worked on them, and there is this big reveal. It’s a surreal moment for these women who have had a wonderful relaxing service—most fall asleep—and when they wake up and the lash artist hands them the mirror, the reaction is always ‘Oh my gosh, I am beautiful!’ The reaction is always so much greater than what their expectation was. There is so much reward in that.
LFLBC: What do you want your customers to know about Deka Lash?
Bette Anne: Two things: We care about the health and safety of your natural lashes, first and foremost. If someone came in with weak, brittle lashes that could not hold the weight of the extensions, and wanted to look like Kim Kardashian, we’ll turn them away because we could damage the health of their natural lashes. So, health and safety is our number one goal.
Secondly, we are really all about customization. Other companies have a menu board and may say, ‘OK, here are the looks we have available, pick one of these styles.’ What we do is customize a lash plan for every individual client based on their eye shape, their face shape and their lifestyle. We really work with them so they understand the maintenance requirements. We are committed to our clients having the plushest, most full lashes they can have and teaching them how to take care of them.
LFLBC: What is your biggest business challenge?
Bette Anne: Well, we’re still new....our Lake Forest location just opened in March. One of our challenges is educating our clients on what extensions entail, how they are applied and how to upkeep and maintain them. It’s a process similar to wearing artificial nails, where your first service takes longer to get the set of nails put on, and then you have follow up appointments for fills. Lash extensions are kind of like that…the first service is two hours [while the lashes are applied], and it is a very soothing, enjoyable experience. Then if you are religious about coming back every two to three weeks, your service time is shorter so we can just fill in the gaps and keep your lashes looking plump. That’s the educational challenge for us.
LFLBC: What other area businesses do you collaborate with?
Bette Anne: I would love to work more with med spas, because personally I have this adage that lash extensions are like Botox without the needles! It’s that reveal…the client sees such a great transformation in themselves. Hopefully, if we’ve done a good job, we’ve opened up their eyes, and made them look younger and more awake… that is what a med spa does. I’m in the process of working with some of them now. We would really love to work with any businesses that are female-oriented.
LFLBC: How does your business give back to the community?
Bette Anne: We have a corporate-wide commitment to female cancers. A percentage of every dollar we earn at the individual studios goes to corporate for this purpose, and they make a sizeable donation to Susan G. Komen and other women’s cancer-based organizations. Also, we are offering discounts for military and first responders. We want to thank them for their service with service by us. While most of them may be men, we open the service up to their spouses as well.
We’re very excited to be part of the Lake Forest/Lake Bluff community, and to be located right by the West Lake Forest Starbucks and LoMastro. Our clientele here has been wonderful.
Lake Forest / Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce: What was your inspiration for starting this business and what is your business vision?
Diana Durkes: My company is a non-profit, but there were many others in the mix who helped us get Forest & Found started. I want to speak for the collective and not just myself.
We are concerned about the state of our environment and the fact that more people are consuming more things. We believe that there are a lot of great existing products out there that can be reused. This is part of our inspiration and our vision.
The other part is our community effort. We want to involve the community in as many areas of the business as possible. Our inventory comes from the community; therefore, we want to give the proceeds, made from the items we sell, back to the community. It’s a virtuous circle.
The company was created in 2014, and I remember opening on a very snowy day. Some brave souls came out and supported us, and we’ve been growing ever since. Currently we are trying to find new and creative ways to grow. We want more people to know about our store and our mission, so we can get more customers as well as possible donations.
LFLBC: What is the one thing you want your customers to know about your business?
DD: We are like a mini department store. We have something for everyone here. It’s almost like one-stop shopping. You can find apparel for your whole family, or even household furniture. We are compact, but we have lots for everybody. Everything is from the community. People can donate here whenever, just by bringing things in during business hours, we just ask that people call ahead for larger items.
LFLBC: What is your most successful business initiative?
DD: We have partnered with various artists and creators in the neighborhood. We feature the art that they have made here. That has been a lot of fun. We have opened our doors afterhours to the community. Soon we are having a networking session with one of the charities that we support. In the past we have had a Painting and Refreshments Night, as well as other workshops, like “learn to sew.” We stay involved with the community and it has been very successful.
LFLBC: What other local businesses do you collaborate with?
DD: Recently, we featured artwork from some of the clients at Northpoint Resources, which is located in North Chicago. Northpoint Resources provides resources for handicapped adults, and they make amazing abstract paintings.
LFLBC: How does your business give back to the community?
DD: On a daily basis we are grateful and thankful for the community. We wouldn’t be here without them. We take every opportunity to say “thank you” to them. Our business model is all about giving back. All the sales we have accrued are donated to a specific charity on a quarterly basis. This last quarter we donated the proceeds to 6 different charities. It included a dog shelter and Waukegan to College. The rest can be found on the website, (www.forestandfound.com). We also have an internship program with the kids from Waukegan to College. Every Saturday they send two high schoolers to help out in our shop.
LFLBC: What is something that you can tell the community about yourself that makes you unique?
DD: This is the perfect job for me. I have had a done a lot of different things in my life. I have raised five kids, built websites at Northwestern University, worked part time at Crate and Barrel, and wrote a column for Time Out Chicago about the things you can do with recycling. You can makeover many things, all it takes is a little imagination. You can learn anything. Forest & Found combines all of that and makes me happy.
Lake Forest / Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce: What was your inspiration for getting into this business?
Mike Adams: So, I’ve always had a desire to help people plan for their financial future. My background was originally more about me managing my own personal finances, trading daily throughout the markets and taking care of my own retirement concerns. But that career changed for me, so I had to change and reinvent myself. Coming on the retail side, I had alot of opportunities to work for other firms, but none of them really had a plan for me on how to build my business. Edward Jones has a recipe for success. As long as I followed the work structure and did it consistently and persistently, my probability of success was very high. That’s one of the main reasons I came to Edward Jones--to focus on the individual investor and their primary needs and goals, not on my production as a financial advisor.
LFLBC: What is your business vision for the future?
MA: My vision for our business is to be a trusted adviser for families, business owners and individuals who are really thinking about stability, and helping them meet their goals. I want to be a trusted adviser [with clients who] want hear my thoughts and the thoughts of Edward Jones.
LFLBC: What is the one thing that you want your customers know about your business?
MA: I want them all to know we built our practice from the ground up. We did not take on any clients of other advisers that wanted to sever their relationship. All of my clients are folks I met face-to-face, whether it was either at their home or at their business. I met them either in Lake Forest or Lake Bluff. And over time, they have referred their children or parents or cousins and aunts, nephews, nieces, what have you. So now all of our business is based on referrals.
LFLBC: What is your most successful business initiative?
MA: I mentioned earlier, I was in the business of trading and that came to an abrupt halt in 2007/2008. My wife and I had just built a house that we moved into and my career was [suddenly] gone. So, we had to circle the wagons and put the house on the market. It was a big adjustment for us as our income dropped dramatically and it was a challenging time for our family. We came out the other side and Edward Jones happened to be there for us. To see the opportunity Edward Jones was providing to me was helpful, because I believed in it. When I was hired, there was just one office on the East side of Lake Forest. They said to me, if you accomplish these three things in the first 12 months, we’re going to build a brand-new office for you, and that’s what happened. So, that was the turning point for us. We’re very happy. We’ve been with the firm about eight years and it’s starting to grow faster than it did in the beginning. We still have a long way to go, but I’ve got great support. I have a lot of clients who want me to succeed and they bring a lot of people to me. It is very gratifying.
LFLBC: What other local businesses do you collaborate with?
MA: I work with a few CPAs and law firms in town that do estate planning, divorce, and family law. We collaborate with Semmelman & Wisneski in Lake Bluff for estate planning and other family law needs. We work with Riewer & Collins in Lake Forest, Lesser Lutrey Pasquesi & Howe. We have Ballen & Company…Steve Ballen is one of the top CPA’s we work with. I support local businesses through taking clients to lunch to restaurants in town. We use PostNet for a lot of shipping and handling. Anytime we have an event here or somewhere else, we use local restaurants for catering. I live in Lake Forest, so we like to support local business.
LFLBC: How does your business give back to the community?
MA: I am involved in the Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Club Kiwanis chapter. I help out with their fundraisers like candy days, and our big event is the Pancake Breakfast on July 4th in Lake Bluff. We all get up around 5:30am to mix the batter, get the sausages cooked up and get out all the food and juices. I serve as a committee member with the Caucus in Lake Forest for Ward 1, and I’m also on the committee that is working to select people to be runners for the school boards. I serve on an Endowment committee and as an Elder at our church--First Presbyterian Church. I also volunteer time to help with the Rummage Sale. I donate some time with Misrecordia. I’m becoming more and more involved in the community--helping local charities that serve needy children and needy families, and things like that. It’s becoming really rewarding to participate in the community events and community charities.
LF/LB Chamber: What was your inspiration for opening Sage Explorers?
Allison Gurza: I was a teacher for 15 years at St. Mary’s. I was ready for a little bit of a change, but I wasn’t ready to let go of teaching altogether. So, I started Sage Explorers, as an educational toy store and learning center. That way I could still stay connected with the kids and be teaching, while offering a service that I knew was needed…Lake Forest didn’t have a toy store. Also, when I was in college I worked at a children’s clothing and toy store, so I had a little background going into this.
LFLBC: What is your vision for Sage Explorers?
AG: It actually happened last week! My vision is for all of it to be working well at the same time. The toy store, the learning center, and the Friday and Saturday craft classes. Last Saturday, we had multiple customers in the store, kids playing games, kids doing a craft, and students we tutor taking a practice SAT test. So that’s my vision…for all of the pieces to be working, all at the same time. When it happens, I go, ‘This is exactly why I did this!’
LFLBC: What is one thing you want your customers to know about Sage Explorers?
AG: Two things: 1) That we’re not just a little kid’s store. People tell me, ‘My kids are too old for a toy store now…’ But, we have games and items for everyone. Age [parameters of] 10-plus, really does mean plus! We have games that adults can enjoy just as much as the kids. And, just because you don’t have kids, doesn’t mean games are not for you anymore. And 2) I want customers to know that we have a Learning Center with a full team of tutors. We cater to kids K through 12.
LFLBC: What is the significance of the name 'Sage Explorers?'
AG: I came up with 'Sage Explorers' because the store is devoted to educational toys and games and incorporates a learning center. So 'sage,' meaning wise, correlates to the educational nature and 'explorers' connects to the journey of learning.
LFLBC: What has been your greatest business initiative?
AG: I’m hopeful that our summer workshops will be really successful. We are offering a great six-week Full Spectrum Reading Program, a Writing Process Class, Math Review for all levels, up to Pre-Algebra and Algebra, Game Coding and Woodworking. All the information is on our website. I’m really looking forward to those being successful.
LFLBC: What other local businesses do you collaborate with?
AG: We have been partnering with another Bank Lane business that works with kids…Maker Research Labs across the street from us. We started doing a joint newsletter called ‘Bank Lane Happenings.’ We’re going to offer activities for kids on Thursday evenings prior to the concerts on Market Square this summer!
LFLBC: How do you give back to the community?
AG: We participate in the Spirit of 67 Spirit Card program. And I honor a lot of donation requests that come through various area organizations and schools. I feel strongly about participating in things that are educational. I feel it’s really important for businesses to always be giving back. In the future I’ll be donating to different select groups on a monthly basis.
I try to give to as many charities as I can. Oftentimes I find myself helping my previous customers when they need donations for their various charities.
Meet Greg Jumes & Weston Polaski
LF/LB Chamber: What was your inspiration for launching Victor App?
Greg Jumes: When my USMC deployment ended in 2008 and my Marine Corps enlistment ended in January of 2010, I had a really tough time adjusting to life back home in Wisconsin. It was definitely the low point of my life. After a couple years, I spent some time back in the Middle East and Asia doing security work for private companies and government agencies which was kind of like being in the military. But, as a civilian I got to go home every couple of months, but that just wasn’t sustainable. I didn’t see myself retiring, so I had to come up with something different [to do]. After having a corporate job in Chicago in 2015 I was introduced to some veterans who were involved with an organization called Bunker labs. It’s a non-profit that helps veterans become entrepreneurs. So, after getting into contact with them I realized I could be an entrepreneur if I [could] solve a problem. I went into the most real problem that I’ve ever had, and that was being in combat, then being out of the military. So, I wanted to build a piece of technology that would help veterans and their families feel a sense of community, [access] health and wellness resources and find career opportunities in the area.
LFLBC: What has been its impact on the local military community?
Weston Polaski: So the thing we found right away was that our founding partner, Rush University, has the Road Home Program. It’s an excellent program at Rush where they actually fly veterans’ entire families here and put them through a three-week intense inpatient program. They fund it all. We also saw that there is an overload here in Chicago. We were connecting with a lot of veterans in the community and heard about their experiences at Jesse Brown, [Edward] Hines [Junior Veterans Administration Hospital], the VA up in Lake County. And the number one thing was just the long wait. And so, we have it pretty simple on our app where you just go on and request an appointment. I went on [the app] on a Thursday, requested an appointment, they called me the next day, and I had an appointment on Tuesday….just unheard of [before]. We have a Marine on board now as well who is a patient at Road Home and he said he couldn’t believe how easy it was to go through our app and get the service that he needed.
LFLBC: What kind of help can veterans get through your app?
WP: We’re looking for anything community-based, whether that’s the American Legion, the VFW, or even just a local small business like a restaurant where [veterans] can save some money. Anything that is going to provide support and make them feel welcome in the community.
GJ: So, some of the resources that we currently range from financial assistance to mental health care to free gym memberships. We try to provide as much curated resources to our users in the greater Chicago area [as we can]. We try to hit on every one of those life resources …whether it’s money, childcare, or more. If you want to start a business, grow a business we can connect you with those resources. If you are looking for mental health care, we can connect you there. If you are looking for fun activities or some place to save money, we can do that too. A lot of our businesses provide a lot of different resources. Some will have job opportunities and also a discount. Some of them are just hiring. Some are just offering a discount. Then we have Rush University that offers their programming for veterans, their job opportunities and also their events and activities they provide to the veteran community here in Chicago.
LFLBC: How many partners do you have?
GJ: Currently we have Rush University as our main partner. We have been working very closely with LinkedIn and WeWork to provide events and also feedback on their current veteran initiatives.
LFLBC: How do veterans learn about you?
WP: Right now, were doing a lot of social media, and our team have all been in the veteran community for a while and we have our connections. So, it’s [us] going to the VFW’s, American Legions and getting the word out. And we put out a lot of fliers.
GJ: The best way is for veterans to find us through our website and social media channels.
LFLBC: How was 2017 after your initial launch?
GJ: We had a really great 2017. We raised $26K though a crowd-funding campaign which was really great because that allowed us to start development on our prototype that was launched in May of last year. A couple weeks after we launched we won an award for $72,000 at a pitch competition. That was super great. [We’ve had some ups and downs] and learned a lot, and now we are at a stage where we are raising more capital through private investors.
LFLBC: How has developing the app changed your mission in bridging the military and civilian communities?
GJ: It’s [been] eye-opening, because we have identified that there are a lot of existing veteran organizations that are all trying to do the same thing. And at first, I was kind of discouraged and hesitant about doing this whole venture, but as we continued to research and connect with other organizations, we found that we’re doing something that nobody else has really tried to do. There have been some mobile applications for veterans, but they didn’t last because they didn’t find a way to provide value to both sides of their market. [They were just saying they were going to help veterans], but that was only going to go so far. So, what we found is that not only is it very important to focus on helping the veterans, but also [to help] the organizations and businesses through a sense of a return on their investment. If you’re going to give us $200 a month for our service, we want to make sure we are providing you $10,000 in value. Whereas our competitors weren’t really doing that. We found that as we kept going deeper and deeper into this we found that we were on to something and that there was a big gap that needed to be filled the right way.
LFLBC: How has your connection with the Chamber of Commerce and the communities of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff helped you?
WP: It’s been great to get to know the Lake Forest and Lake Bluff communities. They have been amazing. The people who I have met through the Chamber and at the events, have been great. We are a tech company in downtown Chicago and I never really see tech startups leaving the city area and getting out to the communities where their users and customers are.
GJ: [We’ve been able to make a lot of] connections…and having people in your corner. Having a network up there, both with the business side and the veteran community. We’ve been up there to have dinner at some of the restaurants who are on the app and have met the owners which has been really cool. I keep running across people in the downtown [Chicago] area that I find are also members of the Lake Forest Chamber.
LFLBC: What can the communities of LF and LB do to help support your initiatives?
GJ: Two things: One, we’re raising capital…so anyone who might be interested in investing and being part of our business would be great. And secondly, think about what your business can do for the veteran community, and the value [associating with us] can bring to you. Veterans are 90% more likely to shop at a business that openly supports the military over the competitors. We try to educate a lot of small business owners about that…when we ask them to post a discount or offer, they sometimes think we’re just asking them to give something away, where if you give something, you’re really getting a lot more. If I get a free beer by coming into your restaurant, I’m not just coming in for a free beer…I’m going to eat there, or I’m brining a date, or my family. So, giving these little perks isn’t a charity case. It’s a marketing angle and our goal is to get those 60-some thousand service members in the Lake County area to come into those business and be regulars. Or even get employees from the veteran community.
LFLBC: Anything else you’d like to share?
GJ: If any veteran has a suggestion, we would love to hear it. [We’d love to hear their] stories, and experiences they have had. Any issues they have had separating from the military. They can contact us email@example.com We’d love their input.
Meet Ed Geraghty & Tom Marks
American Legion, McKinlock Post No. 264
Facebook - McKinlock Post 264 American Legion
Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce: What is the American Legion’s mission?
Ed Geraghty: The American Legion really has two purposes. One is to serve veterans, and the other is to serve the community. The American Legion was founded back around World War I, back in 1919 and we’ve been serving the community in Lake Forest for about one hundred years now.
Tom Marks: When we say community, the emphasis is really on children and youth.
LFLBC: What inspired each of you to join the American Legion?
EG: I wanted to give back. A lot of people helped me [when I was] in the military. I joined the Legion later, as I had to raise the family and get the kids through college! But once that was behind me I got involved with the Legion...about ten years ago. It’s been a very worthwhile experience. We do a lot of good things for a lot of different groups.
TM: I got involved about 20 years ago…it’s been awhile! For me, it was really to honor the memory of my father who served in World War II. When I met the guys here, I realized that they needed help. The WWII guys were still running Lake Forest Day, still doing all the hard work and the lifting, and some of them were getting to the point where they couldn’t march the distance for the parades. And I said well, ‘best I help.’ So, I’ve been Commander three times. Ed is now in his third year of being Commander. We’ve both been in with both feet!
LFLBC: What types of programs, events, support and resources does the American Legion provide for local youth and children?EG: We have several different programs. One is our high school scholarships that we give out every year. Last year we gave out $20,000 in college scholarships for high school seniors at Lake Forest High School. We also support CROYA; each year we have them perform at our Lake Forest Day. We also have American Legion baseball which is for boys up to age 19 and we have local coaches usually from the high school. We support Lake Forest College on their Veteran’s Day… [we go] out with our flags and color guard. And then of course, the scouts. Our post is more than a building for us, it’s almost a community center. The Cub scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Brownies…they all use the building for their meetings and for things like pancake breakfasts. So, we try to do as much as we possibly can to help the youth in our community.
TM: The Boy Scouts are a decentralized organization, [which means] every Boy Scout Troop is actually owned by a different entity, not the Boy Scouts. So, in Lake Forest, Troop 48 is sponsored and paid for by us with a fairly significant check. Troop 246 is sponsored by First Presbyterian Church. [Also], we write a check to [support] Applause, the [booster organization for] Lake Forest High School musical arts. We also do a Boys State…we send 6 to 8 boys to a one-week program at Eastern Illinois University where they do mock government and learn how bills get passed and all the stuff that goes along with that.
LFLBC: What is your involvement in special events in the community like Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Lake Forest Day?
EG: We’re the ones who post the flags all over town on holidays. We do that with our members, Boy Scouts and Members of the community. We put the flags up and take them down at the end of the day. For special days like Memorial Day we also put flags [on the graves of veterans] in the Cemeteries: St Mary’s Cemetery, Lake Forest Cemetery, Fort Sheridan Cemetery and St Patrick’s Cemetery.
TM: That’s 3000 flags at the cemeteries, and at least 550 flags around town. The funny thing is less than half the people in town don’t realize that its us that put up those flags.
LFLBC: What all do you do for Lake Forest Day, the Parade and the Carnival?
EG: We do it all. There is a tremendous amount of planning…we start in January and continue until the event in August, then we work to close the books on it by October, so it’s almost a year-round event for us. The parade had 88 entries last year. We’re hoping for more this year. We usually have eight to ten bands, lots of different groups. For the carnival, we ask for volunteers from the high school, the honor society, local realtors man the beer tent and sell beer and wine for us, and we have other community members selling tickets…it’s all hands on deck, basically!
TM: [Lake Forest Day is on a Wednesday because] in days of yore, the Garden Club ran it. Traditionally most businesses were closed on Wednesdays in Lake Forest and the doctors and the bankers went and played golf. Even as late as 1983, I remember our bank was closed on Wednesday. So maybe by the early ‘90’s that went away. So, Wednesday was a good day to get the whole town together and celebrate without being away on the weekend. In those days, the town really did turn out. Also, a lot of the high school classes have had their HS Reunions around Lake Forest Day. One year we got a suggestion to do it on a weekend. We put that up the flagpole and we took a lot of incoming fire! [laughs]
EG: That wasn’t one of our greatest ideas. It got shot down pretty fast! [laughs!]
LFLBC: How can the community continue to help and support the Legion?
TM: Number One: We are trying to grow and develop something called the Sons of the American Legion. We understand that there are probably fewer people living in Lake Forest today who were on active duty in the military, but maybe many of their fathers or grandfathers did, in Vietnam or Korea. We need that next generation to get involved so we can continue doing the things we are doing now. The largest active group in the Legion right now are Vietnam-era vets…we’re between the ages of 65 and 80 and we’re not getting any younger. It’s important that these things we do go on, and we need that kind of help. So, we’d love for more members of the community to get involved.
EG: For those who don’t have time to join, we ask for them to participate in our raffles, or to purchase flags through us…we’ll even drop them off at the house. Any support they can give us financially, [is helpful]. We need the community support. Lake Forest Day is our number one fundraiser. The events and the raffle provide all the funds that we then give back to the community in the form of scholarships and all the other things we do. And about a third of the people who win [the raffle], don’t claim the prize, they just tell us to donate it back to the community.
TG: If a [Legion] member wins…then you’re really under a lot of pressure to give it back! [laughs]. Also, [We’d love for members of the community to] come to Market Square on Memorial Day at 10:45. The scouts will be there. The speaker will be the Commander Omar Martinez from the Great Lakes Naval Station. And, if people want to help us put up the [Memorial Day] flags, they should contact us at (847) 234-9870. There are a variety of times [to volunteer] when we visit the various cemeteries. We could also use the help Tuesday morning picking up the flags.
LFLBC: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
EG: On behalf of the entire post I would like to thank the Lake Forest community for all the support they have given us over the years.
TM: And we are thankful for the help we get from the Chamber. There are all kinds of service. We have members who were at Okinawa. We have member who were at D-Day and even members who never left the states…it’s a range of everything! But everyone answered the call and went and served their country. We’re glad that we can now do things to serve the community, because service doesn’t end when you take off the uniform.
Paul Baffico served in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division in 1970 and 1971 as a combat communication platoon leader. He earned the Silver Star, the Air Medal with 7 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Bronze Star with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster, the Army Commendation Medal; and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry while flying 206 combat assaults. Paul spent his career at Sears Roebuck and Company, where he rose to President of the Sears Automotive Group and CEO of Western Auto Supply Company that merged with Advance Auto. He volunteers monthly in Washington DC as a National Park docent at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. He is the founder and President of the Lake County Veterans and Family Services Foundation.
Paul Baffico: On the heels of serving in Vietnam, and reflecting on the life-after-war I have enjoyed, I realized I wanted to give back to the Veteran community for my good fortune. Inspired by what I saw other people doing for Vets, It has become my life’s purpose.
LFLBC: What types of programs do you provide to Veterans and their families?
PB: Our motto is: ‘We connect Veterans and their family members with each other and the benefits and resources that they earned and deserve.’ We help them regardless of the era they served, the branch they served in and their discharge status. And we define family differently than most government regulations would. We’re inclusive not exclusive.
Over the past five years, we have worked to build a network of partners that help us deliver our services. Services include, but are not limited to, weekly Coffee Klatches that bring Veterans together in five different locations around the county; we provide help for depression, help for deployment issues, both individual and family, PTSD help, grief help, housing, MST [military sexual trauma], TBI [traumatic brain injury], homelessness, financial crisis and counseling, substance abuse, legal, educational benefits, employment, holiday packages, community speaker series, community storytelling, and military 101 training for first responders like clergy, educators and law enforcement. So, anybody who walks in with any problem and has military service…we’re going to help them. Whatever the problem is. Free and confidential.
LFLBC: How has the foundation grown over the years?
PB: It started [in 2011] as a federal grant from the department of Health and Human Services that was awarded to the Lake County Health Department who ran it until 2015. I was the chairman of the governing council. In 2012, the grant was cut by 53%. So, there was essentially no money to support an ongoing program. Consequently, I started a 501c3 non-profit, funded completely by private donations, to run parallel and to expand grant progress. October 2015 was the official end of funding for the original grant, and this Foundation became a completely free-standing non-profit charity free from governmental constraint. We opened with the DryHootch Drop-In Center. We started very small as a grant. We had 20 to 30 cases a year that were very limited in scope because of federal policy compliance. Which means [Vets] had to qualify for VA benefits to qualify for help from the grant. What the American public doesn’t realize is there are many, many service members who are not entitled to benefits At our Foundation, they don’t have to qualify for anything.
LFLBC: How do Vets find you?
PB: Most find us in person at DryHootch or online. We have a website and social media--Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. We publish a newsletter every month. We have a very, very strong community outreach program…one of the elements of that program is Cup-A-Joe. And we have the well-equipped and welcoming coffee shop. Our services are supported by over 60 providers in Lake County that we have personally Vetted who make referrals to us. We had less than 500 contacts in our first year. Last year, we had 18,263. We now should be a little careful that we don’t overpromote and get more than we can handle. Right now, we have 36 active cases with 136 completed for 2018. Our model is to teach Vets to resolve their own issues; we give them agency to resolve and we guide them to the appropriate resources so the individual takes control of their own well-being. We have five professionally trained peer support specialists (who are all combat Veterans) who listen, connect and guide, all based on trust.
LFLBC: Tell me about the impact you’ve had on Veteran’s lives.
PB: Here are a couple examples…
We had a 72-year-old Vietnam Vet who had been a very successful executive. After he retired, he experienced PTSD. He didn’t want to go to the VA, didn’t want any help. We talked to him over a period over 4 to 6 months and we got him help from the VA. He did not want any disability money, but he received the help he needed.
Another example…a Gulf 1 Vet [who was a truck driver], was driving an 18-wheeler in Wisconsin and he totaled his truck in an accident. To avoid [crashing into] a mother and her two kids, he ran his truck into the guardrail. He called us and said, ‘I’m stuck here. What can you do to help me?’ We rented him a car to get his stuff out of the truck. And we rented him another car so he could drive himself and his three-legged dog back to Mississippi, so he could get back to work.
One more… We got word that a Marine was dying and he had fallen in love with a little dog when he was getting treatment in North Carolina. The man was down to this last 4 or 5 months. All he wanted was to be with this dog. We sent the Peer Support Specialist to North Carolina to get the dog and take it to Kansas City to be with him in his last days. It turned out both the Peer and the client had served in the same Marine unit 50 years apart: one in Vietnam, the other in Afghanistan.
These are things a government agency is not going to do. So, we provide a safe welcoming model for Veterans who, very honestly, are relatively uncomfortable in the civilian world for the rest of their lives.
LFLBC: How can the community help your initiatives.
PB: Well, [in order to keep serving Veterans] we could use financial assistance from members of the community. We constantly solicit for donations in various ways.
LFLBC: What community events do you have coming up?
PB: We have lots of events. The biggest one is our Ruck March in September. It’s a 22-kilometer march…22 is symbolic of the number of Veteran suicides per day. Participants put 22 pounds in the ruck sack to symbolize the weight of carrying the death of a comrade. It helps raise awareness of Veteran suicides. People can sign up to participate, donate, form a team. Also, we’ll be volunteer help at the Lake Bluff Antique Car show in June. We’ll be in the Lake Bluff 4th of July parade. …we’ll be taking donations at both of those. We believe in a strong community presence, because we can’t do this without the community. It’s not just money…it’s the moral and spiritual support that the community provides.
Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Chamber: What was your inspiration for opening The Gallery?
Cecelia Lanyon: The Gallery opened about a year and a half ago. My partner [Dominic] is a chef. He’s been in the industry for over 20 years and I have an art background. We wanted to combine both of our passions together and try to create an immersive experience where guests can enjoy art and food. We had been working on the concept in thought for a long time and found that this space was very conducive to what we were looking for. We have a gallery space that functions just as a gallery, and then the dining room that doubles as both an area to eat and also peruse artwork.
LFLBC: Where do you get your artwork?
CL: Artists on the Bluff is one of our residents. They are a member-based non-profit art group. We work directly with them. They have their own gallery openings once a month. In terms of the exhibits that we showcase in the dining room and other artwork that is on display, Renée Romero Schuler is a very well-known Lake Forest artist that I have been working with for almost 4 years. We exclusively represent her works on paper. She does large-scale paintings and exhibits all over the country with representation in Chicago. But her smaller scale stuff is shown here. In the Main dining room we have rotating exhibits that switch every 6 to 8 weeks. We either seek out those artists, or they find us.
LFLBC: What is your business vision?
CL: I hope that this evolves into including more theatrical components, like music and additional art forms. We are starting to embrace that by doing our first dinner theater. We will have a live musical performance [in May] and then dinner that is intended to be eaten with the musical. It's called “Cabaret”.
LFLBC: What is one thing you want customers to know about your business?
CL: Dominic and I really consider this space an extension of our home. So when we have guests join us for dinner we really focus on hosting them in our own space. Every person having a good experience it is extremely important to us, which is why we like that we are a small space and also a small operation. When someone is making a reservation they are either talking to me or Dominic. We really care. This is our life passion. For us to be able to welcome guests to experience what we have created is very special to us.
LFLBC: What is your most successful business initiative?
CL: One of our initiatives has been partnering with other businesses in the community. We most recently partnered with Left Bank. Ideally as a creative business we want to be continually collaborating. We are always looking for different opportunities. Dominic always envisioned the idea of collaborating with chefs, because we match the menu to the artwork on display. Ideally if we had a Japanese artist we would want [to collaborate with] a chef specialized in Japanese food. Collaborating outside and inside of the kitchen is something that we love to do.
LFLBC: How does your business get back to the community?
CL: One of our favorite shows of the year is the emerging artist exhibit. It gives us the opportunity to display over +150 kids' artwork from local schools. We do that in tandem with Deerpath Art League. This is the 11th year Deerpath has done it, and the fourth year that we have hosted it in this space. It’s something that both Dominic and I feel really passionate about...to make sure we are supporting creative youth, because they are the future, and making them feel honored and celebrated for creating and having the confidence to do that. I would say that is one of our biggest contributions that I feel really strongly about!
Photo Credit: Kerri Sherman Photography