New President and Hester Junior High Performers at Annual Holiday Luncheon

Elected officials and school representatives gathered to celebrate past successes and look toward future goals at the Chamber by O’Hare’s annual holiday luncheon.

The meeting included the installation of Michael Rickert as the new chamber of commerce president. Franklin Park Mayor Barrett Pedersen administered the oath. Ken Kollar, the previous president, served in that role for more than a decade.

Rickert and Kollar have extensive experience in business, and both are based in Franklin Park. Kollar is president of KCS Computer Technology Inc., and Rickert is a managing broker for Rickert Realtors, which has been in Franklin Park since 2001.

"I'm going to come in and carry on what Ken has put in place," Rickert said. "Our main goal is to increase the number of businesses in our chamber of commerce."

Pedersen said Kollar “took over when there were only a handful of people in the room.”

"He helped grow the chamber into what it is today — a chamber that benefits businesses and connects businesses with one another,” Pedersen said.

Kollar mentioned the chamber’s yearly scholarships and contributions to organizations such as Leyden Family Service.

"I appreciate the opportunity to serve the business and the residential communities, and I'm glad the chamber can contribute," Kollar said.

That spirit was on display through food donations going to support Leyden Family Service and a $2,000 donation to Shriners Hospitals for Children to purchase an adaptive bicycle.

Darlene Kelly, the director of recreation therapy and child life at Shriners’ Chicago hospital, described how this donation will help children long after the holidays.

"The bike the chamber purchases can be trialed by our patients, and once they find the bike that fits them, they can apply for our 'special bikes for special kids' program for a chance to win a custom-made bike for them to keep," Kelly said.

Bikes can cost between $1,200 and $5,000, and Kelly said they have an invaluable impact in children’s lives.

"It helps them get more involved with their family and friends, build strength in their arms and legs, build confidence, and helps improve their quality of life," Kelly said.

The event included a performance from Hester Junior High School’s "BASSically TREBLE" performance group. Hester’s general vocal music teacher, Marilee Castaneda, said her students also experienced something new leading songs and a sing-a-long at their second chamber luncheon.

"This is our first time singing with a harp," Castaneda said. "It's really a cool thing to do; it's a great experience for the kids."

"The kids are delightful," harpist Renee Wilson said. "We had a little rehearsal when I first got here, and it was like putting together something with professional musicians. They did such a great job."

In a few years, some of those kids could get a first job at a Franklin Park company, or learn about a new career, and Frank Holthouse, the Leyden High School District’s director of career and community outreach, said the partnership with the chamber is important.

"Kids come to us for jobs all the time,” Holthouse said. “The skills in the classes are developed in partnership with the chamber member companies.”

Underpass owner and River Grove Mayor David Guerin said hosting the annual gathering is "an honor.”

"Wearing both hats, I can see how important it is to have a strong chamber to support local businesses, and good leadership from our Mayor Pedersen in Franklin Park to foster doing business and supporting small businesses like The Underpass," Guerin said.

Schiller Park Mayor Nick Caiafa said the Chamber by O’Hare’s annual holiday luncheon is a special occasion.

"This event has grown over the years to become of of the most exciting luncheons around Christmas time and an opportunity to unite the communities of Leyden Township," Caiafa said.

Michael Rickert

Franklin Park Mayor Barrett Pedersen administers the oath to incoming Chamber of Commerce President Michael Rickert at the Chamber by O'Hare annual holiday luncheon on Dec. 6, held at the Underpass Restaurant & Lounge. (Rachel K. Hindery/Pioneer Press)

Hester Junior High

Members of Hester Junior High's "BASSically TREBLE" performed holiday favorites at the Chamber by O'Hare annual holiday luncheon on Dec. 6, held at the Underpass Restaurant & Lounge. (Rachel K. Hindery/Pioneer Press)

Rachel K. Hindery is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

See article in the Chicago Tribune.