“A Chamber of Commerce is in prospect for Arlington Heights,” wrote the Palatine Enterprise newspaper on August 1, 1924. “A number of the business and professional men of the City of Good Neighbors realize that there is a place for such an organization in this city.”

98 years ago, a small group of businessmen came together with the intent of creating greater representation in the business community of Arlington Heights. A vision that was spurred on and survived after WWII, the Cold War, two major wars in Asia, 17 different U.S. presidents, the Gulf War, 9/11, the Arlington Racetrack fire, two financial meltdowns and a now viciously divided country.

75 years after the incorporation of the Chamber, the group continues to represent businesses, develop events, and support the people in the Village of Arlington Heights.

The seeds of the Chamber of Commerce sprouted in a small town which provided a nourishing environment for the group to grow into what it is today. In 1951, the Cook County Herald reported on a cemetery vandalism, which the newly incorporated Chamber gave $100 towards the catching of the perpetrator. In 1965, the Chamber helped Ms. Pink, a local schoolteacher, find an apartment in the area which allowed her to teach in Arlington Heights. In 1979, the Chamber sponsored 15 football lunches with the Chicago Bears.

Each event had the main goal of bringing together the people of Arlington Heights, and helping the community grow. The Chamber also provided recognition to people in the town who deserved it. In January of 1948, the Chamber provided an outing to the hard-working patrol boys of Arlington Heights. In 1965, the AHCC recognized the first responders of Arlington Heights by providing police officers with a sterling silver star, and firemen a silver tie clasp.

As the AHCC moves into its 75th official year, it is as relevant as ever to acknowledge and recognize the role of a group that spends ample amounts of time, money, and energy in the thriving metropolis of Arlington Heights.

Through their efforts, Arlington Heights has developed into a warm town with lifelong traditions, a well-recognized workforce, and a thriving business community made up of both small and big successful businesses.

“It’s always been a very collaborative and cooperative effort within the Village and the business community to promote the quality of life for the residents and the business owners, and they work hand in hand together, if they don’t, you’re going to have issues. Doesn’t mean that everything was always peachy keen, obviously there would be times when one group would say ‘well we ought to do it this way’ and somebody else would say ‘do it that way’ and in the end came a well-intended and well-meaning compromise. That certainly has served the community all these years,” said former Chamber president Rob Lincoln.

Through valleys and hills, bright moments, and dark times, this is the story of the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce.

1940’s

In May of 1947, the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce officially became a non-profit organization, being incorporated, and recognized by the state of Illinois on May 9, 1947.

At the time of the incorporation, the son of former president William Howard Taft, Sen. Robert Taft was running for president; baptisms were announced in the newspapers; and a 2 lb. bag of coffee cost .75 cents at the local grocery store.

Just three months after the incorporation of the Chamber, the Arlington Heights Herald ran a story which questioned whether the cost of goods would increase or decrease following World War II. This would also be the decade in which the Chamber of Commerce would hire their first secretary. A story so significant, it was run in the Arlington Heights Herald.

“Arlington Heights businessmen Monday night authorized the board of directors of the Chamber of Commerce to hire a full-time secretary,” wrote the Arlington Heights Herald. “Two hours were spent in discussing the pros and cons of the jobs and the duties that a secretary will find to do.”

The cost of goods and services was miniscule compared to what it is now, and life was much simpler for the good people of Arlington Heights. Things would eventually change for life of residents in Arlington Heights, with goods now increased by dollars, and the hiring of a new secretary being an average affair, the Chamber of Commerce would remain a driving force pushing into the next decades.

1950’s

The 1950’s was the first full decade of the Chamber of Commerce. WWII had just ended, the United Nations had been developed just 5 years prior, the Arlington Heights Woman’s Club was the social club many local women engaged with, and a quart of mayonnaise cost 60 cents with a coupon at the local grocery store.

In 1951, the Chamber of Commerce hosted a speaker who gave an impassioned speech on the freedoms celebrated in America, and the world war that had ended just six years prior.

“‘Democracy is never safe. We must fight for it every day,” the Wheeling Herald quoted the speaker. “Freedom is never free. We must work for it if we are to preserve it. The month of February is an important patriotic month in American history.”

In 1952, the Daily Herald was reporting on the new telephone industry being pushed in Arlington Heights. Ads were run for businesses that said, “our telephone is new–but our television service is still the finest in town.” Phone numbers at the time were simple five-digit numbers, not 10.

Food for Christmas meals in 1951 were less than a dollar in price. Pork loin cost 39 cents a pound, picnic ham cost .42 cents a pound, and a pound of lettuce cost .15 cents. All this for Christmas mealtime preparation.

To spread Christmas cheer in Arlington Heights, the Chamber of Commerce sponsored a Christmas light contest in 1951.

“Residents who entered the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce Christmas lighting contest are reminded to have their displays lighted from 6:30 to 11 p.m. Friday, December 21,” wrote the Arlington Heights Herald.

1960’s

For perspective on just how long the AHCC has lasted, in 1964 a request was made for a mimeograph machine. Should somebody look up a mimeograph machine in the year 2021, numerous videos will appear that include stock footage from the 60’s of such a device.

In 1964, the AHCC celebrated 40 years since the first group formed to develop what is now known as the AHCC. The Arlington Heights Herald wrote “forty years ago this summer-on July 31, 1924-a group of Arlington Heights businessmen formally organized as association, dedicated to the improvement of the village”.

The times were much different during the decade of the 60’s, life for many was much simpler. The Chamber did their bookwork by hand and the Welcome Neighbor Program was used to introduce new citizens to the village.

Respect for Law and Order

During the late 1960’s, the AHCC was concerned with the state order, not just Arlington Heights, but the rest of the country.

The group was so invested in the issue of order that they formed a committee dedicated to the preservation of law and order.

“Committee on Respect for Law and Order reported that membership cards and applications had been printed, were being numbered, and that a kick-off meeting was being arranged. Samples of the cards and applications were passed around and several applications were signed–the first of many,” meeting minutes, 1968.

The Law-and-Order Committee was focused on studying and lobbying for the protection of people and businesses. This goal became prevalent during the late 1960’s when protests around the country were becoming increasingly violent.

“With disorder, burning, looting, and rioting all summer long, and with induction center and University riots at many places from Coast to Coast, it is obvious that as a nation we have law and order problems of the first magnitude,” from the meeting minutes in 1967.

The AHCC was heavily invested in the preservation of individual lives, homes and businesses which people held dear. Often, members would work with the local police department in achieving goals which preserved the livelihoods of local business owners.

“Lt. English responded with excellent comments pointing out first that a law was recently passed which in effect made looting once a store had been broken into a misdemeanor rather than a felony. He pointed out maximum force could be used to protect a person’s life, or a home, but not to protect a business,” from the meeting minutes of 1968.

The AHCC responded to the infamous Chicago Riots of 1968 at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) by sending a telegram to former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. The statement commended the Chicago police for their “firm action in preventing a chaotic situation from developing in Chicago.” The telegram also said they “regret the fact that some innocent people may have been hurt in the difficult and dangerous task of maintaining law and order.” The statement was sent out in the Triangle News on Sept. 1, 1968.

The Chamber was not done, however. They felt strongly that the news coverage of the Chicago Riots was unfair towards the police officers working the crowds. So, they sent a set of telegrams to the Chicago offices of NBC and CBS news.

The Chamber said that they felt “your [CBS & NBC] coverage of Chicago police action in keeping law and order is slanted unfairly.” The AHCC emphasized a desire for fair coverage of an issue with which they felt had a major slant.

“We urge that you give instructions to your people to show the entire picture in a terribly difficult situation. Consider the alternative to the firm action of the police and national guard in confining these planned disturbances,” said the Chamber.

When this committee was not focused on the national issues, the AHCC’s committee on law and order was bringing attention to issues that were relevant to Arlington Heights specifically.

“The Committee [Law and Order Committee] Chairman proposed that the Chamber and his committee sponsor a program which might be called Crime Stop or Chec-Mate which would register interested citizens who would report suspicious or actual criminal acts to the police by simply giving their ‘Crime Stop’ or ‘Chec-Mate’ number,” meeting minutes of July 30, 1968.

Welcome Neighbor Program

In the 1960’s, the AHCC was the provider of the “Welcome Neighbor Program” for new residents of Arlington Heights.

The program was started in 1960 by the AHCC, used to welcome new residents into the Arlington Heights community. By the mid-1970’s, the program was highly successful. The Chamber bragged in the Triangle News in 1973 about the 1,500 calls the welcome neighbor hostess made.

Paid greeters would visit new residents of Arlington Heights, providing the newcomers with a welcome packet that included information about the town, coupons, and knick-knacks for the new residents to enjoy.

“What they [Welcome Neighbor Greeters] would do is they would go out into the community, let’s say you and your family had just moved to Arlington Heights, they would get a list from the village because they have their water meter turned on, whatever else…” said former Chamber President Rob Lincoln.

“These people that ran the Welcome Neighbor/Welcome Wagon Program…they would welcome the family to the community and provide a packet of information about Arlington Heights, the parks, the schools, and the business community, and usually then within the packet there would’ve been a free haircut from Mike’s Barber or $20 off at the Jewel,” said Lincoln

The Daily Herald reported in 1965 that the Welcome Neighbor Program hostess, Ruby Morton, had made 1,163 home visits in her first year of the job. The Herald dealt a great amass of praise towards the work of Morton; she was constantly working to welcome new neighbors into the town.

“‘My peak periods so far have been after the first of July and the first of August. I made 80 calls during the first two weeks of August,’” said Morton in the Daily Herald.

The Daily Herald reported in April of 1961 that the AHCC used the Welcome Neighbor Program to provide tours to newcomers in Arlington Heights.

“After parking their young children with the chamber babysitting service at Our Savior Lutheran church, newcomers gathered at the Bank of Arlington Heights and boarded the bus along with chamber officers,” wrote the Daily Herald in 1961.

Despite the program’s massive success, the village’s transition into a large metropolis made the program much less practical to hold on to. While the idea of welcoming in every new household in town was simply not practical when the town is one of the largest around Chicago, there was also a growing number of fresh ideas to take the role of the Welcome Neighbor Program.

“I think it was very well received, then after a while the village became so big, and it was just very difficult to coordinate…but once you become part of a huge metropolis it’s difficult to do that because there are so many other competing ideas of ‘ok, how do I get my coupon into your hands?’” said Lincoln.

The age of the program is visible through the Daily Herald’s coverage of the work Ruby Morton did in the year 1964. Needless to say, such a program was heavily maintained by the simplicity of life in the 1960’s.

“Her [Ruby Morton] calls are in the morning hours, ‘when the housewife is most likely to be home,’” wrote the Daily Herald in 1965.

The program thrived off the simplicity of life in the mid-20th century. The Chamber used the small village to connect with each of the people that were there. Despite the disbanding of the Welcome Neighbor Program, the Chamber still thrives as a welcomer in Arlington Heights.

Vietnam

In the wake of the Vietnam War, over 58,000 American lives were lost, Arlington Heights Chamber members knew people who surrendered everything in Southeast Asia. Oftentimes the Chamber would be vocal with their support of these individuals fighting for the preservation of a free South Vietnam.

The Chamber wrote in their Triangle News issue that Americans sleep well knowing they have men and women ready to protect them, writing on May 1, 1968 that they are “concerned and thankful that they are fighting our battles in Vietnam.”

“Let’s give visible expression to our feelings by attendance at this function whose sole purpose is to recognize and salute these fellow citizens in uniform on the part of our Village, on the part of you and of me.”

O.L. Craig, former owner of the Arlington Inn and Chamber member, lost his son Harry Craig to the controversial war. The Chamber sent a letter of condolence to Craig, demonstrating a relationship that was not only professional, but personal.

A response of condolence and support of the people fighting and dying in Southeast Asia was a typical response to the war effort. Amidst the protests reported by the Daily Herald and the Arlington Heights Herald, the Chamber chose to give love to families who were losing sons in the war effort.

Letter from Kennedy’s Office

In the early 1960’s the Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the office of former President John F. Kennedy (JFK). The letter laid out a proposal to have a sister city in South America. The Chamber received a reply:

“Thank you and those who joined with you for your letter of June 29 to the President,” said special assistant to the president, Ralph Dungan. “He appreciates the imaginative response of Arlington Heights to the challenges of our day as outlined by you and has asked me to call your plan for total community involvement and provides a way for private citizens to assist their government in the vital task of making and keeping friends abroad.”

1970’s

The 1970’s was a decade of struggle for the country. From the Iranian Hostage Crisis to the energy shortages that took place through the ten years, the country needed a morale boost. For Arlington Heights, the boost came from the local business organization which had worked efficiently for 56 years to bring life to the village.

The Chamber sponsored a free bus that went to and from the Arlington Heights business district. Such a move helped residents take care of their Christmas shopping and spurred the local economy. (Arlington Heights Herald 1973).

In 1971, the Arlington Heights Herald ran an ad for “Santa Calls,” where Santa calls directly from the north pole to kids throughout Arlington Heights. The Arlington Heights Chamber teamed up with the Arlington Heights Jaycees in order to get the phone calls operational.

Women of the Chamber

The 1970’s started off with a progressive move for the 1970’s: the first woman to hold the presidency in Chamber history. Marge LeMeilleur was nominated on Jan. 6, 1970, as president of the Chamber. This was a spot of pride for the Arlington Heights group, as she was one of 200 women who were at the helm of a Chamber throughout America.

“We have researched that matter of how many women presidents there are in the United States and come up with the information from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that ‘about 200 women serve as presidents of local Chambers. And, of course, that includes our own Marge Le Meilleur. There is only one in the State of Maine, but several in Illinois,” from the Triangle News, the Chamber’s personal newsletter, issue of April 1, 1970. The move was, at the time, a forward thinking move considering 20 years prior, an Arlington Heights newspaper ran the headline “Women learn how state laws are made.”

Arlington Heights also held, in April of 1950, a “style show” according to a clipping from an Arlington Heights newspaper.

Drug Resistance

The 1970’s had a large emphasis on the AHCC’s work in assisting the village with drug resistance in Arlington Heights.

“Jerry Milligan was appointed to attend the meeting, talk to interested police officers, and report back with recommendations for the Board on Chamber participation, if any, in working on this problem [drug problem] in the community,” from the meeting minutes of March 31, 1970.

The Chamber dedicated ample amounts of time and money to the resistance of drugs in the community. The entire community was dedicated to the resistance of drugs. In August of 1978, the Daily Herald published a list of “drug abuse resources.” In 1970, a meeting was held at the American Legion Hall by two Arlington Heights detectives about drug resistance; the meeting was attended by 75 people, according to the Chamber’s meeting minutes. “The Chamber gave a token check for $50 to start a fund to purchase recommended [drug education] films…’Bud’ Mills recommended that we should ‘back this effort all possible,’” from the meeting minutes of April 28, 1970.

Former Arlington Heights Mayor Walsh frequently held meetings about the “prevalence of drugs” in Arlington Heights which Chamber representatives often attended.

“Many interesting things were brought out in discussion with teachers and students…A teacher says 20 out of 80 of her high school pupils had smoked pot,” from the meetings minutes of Nov. 24, 1970.

On May 26, 1970, the Chamber was shown a video by Detective Richard W. Robinson of the Arlington Heights Police Department about the prevalence of drugs in the community.

Other

In the 1970’s, there was some concern over phony Welcome Neighbor Program calls, claiming to be from the Chamber’s Welcome Neighbor Program. A warning was issued in the Triangle News.

“The Chamber office has received a good many complaints from people who are called on the telephone and told they are talking to ‘Your Welcoming Committee’ or to ‘Greeters of Arlington Heights’ or some such representation or misrepresentation as to their identity.

The stories coming to us differ somewhat. Some develop into a straight magazine selling scheme. Others seem to ask very personal questions and in one instance came to a resident of some three or four years not to a newcomer.

All are misrepresentations. They have nothing whatsoever to do with our Welcome Neighbor Program or with the Chamber of Commerce. You should tell your friends, particularly if they are newcomers to the Village, to completely ignore this type of approach and simply hang up the telephone receiver.

If the call gets too personal, or ends up in bad language, etc., or is repeated, it should be reported to the police and to the telephone company,” November 1, 1970.

The Triangl