Big Fish Ball Puts the Fun in Fundraising

Friends of the Chicago River’s annual fundraiser the Big Fish Ball was a big, big, hit on June 11, 2019, attended by over 540 guests at the Westin Chicago River North and raising nearly $300,000.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District President Kari K. Steele and, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Manny Perez were among the speakers at the sold out event.

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel was awarded the Chicago River Blue Award’s Blue Ribbon prize for his leadership and enthusiasm for projects such as the Chicago Riverwalk, the Wild Mile plan, the 312 River Run, the Chicago River Boathouses, the more ecologically-based Chicago River Design Guidelines, and for creating the River Ecology and Governance Task Force.

“I want to thank Friends of the Chicago River not for this award but what you’ve done for over 40 years, being a voice for the city of Chicago, rediscovering one of the most natural resources we have,” said Emanuel in a pre-recorded video message. “Now we have a chorus of voices for making the river a big part of the city of Chicago – not apart from the city but a part of the city.”

More: Chicago River Blue Awards Honor River-Sensitive People, Projects 

Preckwinkle, who also serves as president of the Forest Preserves of Cook County, noted Friends’ many accomplishments. In particular, as a former high school teacher, she praised the organization’s Chicago River Schools Network that works with students and teachers to use the river system to teach about water, science, history, and culture.

“I’m honored to have this opportunity to honor Friends of the Chicago River for their amazing work and look forward to continuing our partnership,” said Preckwinkle.

The Big Fish Ball was established in 2006 to benefit Friends’ efforts to improve and protect the Chicago River system. Presented by McDermott Will & Emery, the ball featured visits with live wildlife including a Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana), a striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), a common barn owl (Tyto alba), and three types of bats.

A painting created during the ball by artist Gino Savarino of Very Big Artfetched $3,000 during a lively auction, and raffle ticket sales were brisk for chances to win hotel stays, concert events, delicious culinary adventures, and tours. An after-party river cruise courtesy of Shoreline Sightseeing capped off a terrific evening.

A painting created during the ball by artist Gino Savarino of Very Big Art fetched $3,000 during a lively auction and raffle ticket sales were brisk for hotel stays, concert events, delicious culinary adventures, and tours.

Enjoy some scenes from the ball below, taken by Ian Vecchiotti, Andrew Herrmann, and Emma Loew.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, meet opossum. (I.V.) Smile now: Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioners Debra Shore, Josina Morita, and MWRD board president Kari Steele. (I.V)Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel pre-recorded a thank you message and a congratulations recognizing Friends' 40th anniversary. (A.H.)   This skunk was a welcome guest. (A.H.)MWRD Board President Kari Steele and Cook County Forest Preserves General Manager Arnold Randall huddle with Friends' Executive Director Margaret Frisbie. (I.V) 

All in a night's work: painter Gino Savarino of Very Big Art. (A.H.)Friends' Tributary Committee led by Louise Barrett (far left) works as volunteers. Isn't it time you join this group of emerging leaders? (I.V) Chicago River Blue Awards honor river-sensitive people and projects, such as the Wild Mile plan. (A.H)Ssssssnake's alive! (A.H.)Don't try this in the back yard. (A.H.)MWRD board president Kari Steele with Friends' Margaret Frisbie and MWRD Commissioner Kimberly Du Buclet. (A.H.)

The outdoor plaza was the place to be for Friends board member Dave Loew and his wife Maria. (E.L)U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's Gene Fleming. The Corps was recognized for its successful efforts to remove a dam on the North Branch. (A.H.)Drinks anyone? (A.H.)Jackie Loewe, a member of Friends board of directors, snaps a shot with whooo knows who. (A.H)          Holy bat, man!  (E.L.)Richard Wilson of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture and Robert Sit of site design group, ltd.served, once again, as co-chairs of the Big Fish Gala Committee. Thanks for your excellent work!Couldn't pull this off without our volunteers. (E.L)

Friends of Friends. 

Who's ready for next year? (E.L.)

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