Last week, New Moms sent out an email to friends of its annual Kitchen Walk to let them know that the walk — shuttered in 2020 and 2021 by the pandemic — would not be returning to Oak Park and River Forest after 36 years in the community.
The walk had been prominent on the local fundraising circuit since 1985, when Parenthesis board member Pat Staszak and her neighbor, Catherine Deam, came up with the idea after Deam renovated her own kitchen.
Parenthesis, which was acquired by New Moms in 2016, began the spring tradition of highlighting Oak Park and River Forest kitchens while also showcasing the work of local kitchen designers.
New Moms took the reins of the walk in 2016, and Bonnie Andorka, senior manager of donor relations and events at New Moms, transitioned from Parenthesis too. Andorka says the necessity of cancelling the walk last year and this year created a pause that allowed the organization to rethink their fundraising efforts.
She notes that at the end of the day, the walk required a lot of time but didn’t show a return on investment.
“New Moms invested significantly in the walk,” Andorka said. “They increased marketing, increased showcase fees and ticket prices and still didn’t see an increase in revenue.”
Andorka said that in spite of these efforts, the walk did not raise more money in recent years than in did years ago.
The walk required a large investment of time from staff and volunteers, with work typically beginning in August for the late-April walk. Andorka says that to do the walk well required a tremendous amount of time that could be better allocated to different efforts.
According to Andorka, ending what had become a spring rite of passage in Oak Park was not an easy decision.
“We have an incredible appreciation for the Oak Park and River Forest communities,” she said. “People have always volunteered their time and opened their houses. So many people came to see the walk and support New Moms. The Kitchen Walk was a great way for people to learn about our mission. This decision was not made lightly.”
River Forest-based kitchen designer Mark Menna says he was initially shocked by the news but understands the decision.
“Unfortunately, the pandemic put them in a position of raising money in other ways,” Menna. “It forced their hand to go in another direction.”
Menna, who says he participated in the walk at least 23 of the last 25 years, says that his views on the walk changed over time.
“When I was part of the walk 25 years ago, it was more about me and establishing my business, highlighting my work,” he said. “As I got more established, I was doing it more for the philanthropy and helping a community organization.”
He adds that the walk helped in developing a long-term relationship with the community.
“In the beginning years, it was a critical part of our growth,” Menna said. “As we got our foot in the ground as one of the top players in the area, it still solidified that.”
Menna says he will miss the connections and the community that the walk fostered, noting that he often talked to the same people each year who looked forward to that chance to get a glimpse into new designs.
Denise Hauser of Oak Park’s Denise Hauser Design has also been involved with the Kitchen Walk for years, both as a designer and a judge.
“I feel really sad,” Hauser said. “It’s really going to be missed by the community.”
Hauser, who has been a part of the walk since 2009, says that part of what made the walk special was how tailored it was to the communities of Oak Park and River Forest.
“It was a great celebration of the architectural significance of our homes and what a great community we have,” she said. “People came from all over to see our homes and saw how special it is to live in Oak Park and River Forest.”
For some, Hauser says the walk was inspirational and allowed them to dream about a fancy kitchen. For others, it was instructive, and they gleaned ideas for how to update their own homes.
“Our kitchens were not originally meant to do what we want them to do today,” Hauser said. “One hundred years ago, when our houses were built, kitchens were just for servants. You have to think about space planning, and that’s different here than it is with a new construction house.”
Hauser says she hopes another organization will consider taking over the Kitchen Walk as a fundraiser and notes that she even floated the idea of combining the annual Garden Walk with the Kitchen Walk as a fall event.
“I’m hoping someone steps up,” she said. “I think it would be a great fundraiser for somebody.”
Wright Plus returns in September
In other housewalk news, after a pandemic hiatus in May of 2020 and May of 2021, the Wright Plus Architectural Housewalk plans to return on Sept. 18.
Residences on the walk include three Frank Lloyd Wright designs, as well as two other homes making their housewalk debuts:
- Isabel Roberts House (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1908, remodel 1955)
- J. Kibben Ingalls House (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1909)
- Oscar B. Balch House (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1911)
- Bell House (H. Mahler, 1914)
- Henry Einfeldt House (Purcell & Elmslie, 1915)
- John A. Klesert House (William Drummond, 1915)
- Seth A. Rhodes House (John Van Bergen, 1916)
- E. Probst House (Edward Probst, 1916)