Group devoted to learning teaches me something

During my 35 years of working in Hinsdale, I've gotten to know a lot of people - and a lot of groups.

Some are quite familiar, like the Hinsdale Infant Welfare Society or the Hinsdale Assembly. Others, like the National Charity League, are more recent arrivals in town.

I was surprised to learn a few months ago about a group that has been meeting in town for 120 years - and I had never heard of it.

"We say it's the oldest organization in Hinsdale," said Lise Spacapan, president of the Hinsdale Social Studies Circle. "I don't know how you prove that, but that's what our brochure says every year."

" 'Tis good to be merry and wise" is the group's slogan, and Spacapan believes it's a good one.

"It's a congenial group of people - that's the merry part," she said.

Meetings, which are held in members' homes, begin with dessert and coffee for about 30 minutes.

"We don't serve alcohol, and certainly not because it's made up of a bunch of teetotalers. It's light social - and a really

great program."

That's the wise part. The group meets six times a year and holds two social events, a summer picnic and a holiday party.

Spacapan, who worked as a lawyer in private practice before going to work as Gov. Bruce Rauner's general counsel, decided when she became program chair that the meetings should have a theme each year. One year the theme was "Understanding Illinois." Even with politicians coming in, meetings remained cordial.

"We don't have debates. It's a very collegial group, and we like to hear all points of view," she said.

That's isn't often the case, I noted, and asked what makes this group different.

"The easy answer to that is we're all friends," Spacapan said. "We're all mature people. Most of us have had interesting professions ourselves and we like each other, so we're always collegial.

"I think members are very respectful people, very open-minded people and very much interested in learning about something they didn't know about," she added.

Having spoken to the circle, I would concur.

I was invited to talk about my work in community journalism as part of this year's theme, "Interesting Vocations and Avocations."

I was pleased when I arrived to see many familiar faces, including Dirk Landis, Jane Foster, Laurie McMahon and, of course, Anne Kozak, who had invited me to speak. (I know Anne from her days as executive director of the Thomas Ford Library in Western Springs. I was the reporter covering Western Springs when the library was undergoing a major renovation, and the two of us spent many hours at library board meetings where topics like which way the chevrons in the carpet should face were discussed at length.)

In addition to friendly faces, there was a fabulous dessert table and a delicious apple crisp. The evening was off to a great start.

My topics was "Headlines and Bylines." Looking back, we probably should have narrowed that down, as my presentation lasted about twice as long as it was supposed to. (This will come as no surprise to those who know me.)

But the group listened attentively and then, to my surprise, had a handful of questions for me.

Spacapan said that's often the case.

"One of the most fun things is hearing the myriad of questions people have," Spacapan said.

Bylaws limit the group to 42 and there aren't many openings, with membership by invitation. My advice? Make friends with group members and, if invited to a meeting, say yes.

"It's not a really young group because I think people don't want to leave it," Spacapan said.

Having attended just one meeting, I can see why.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean