IWA Gala Celebrates Chinese Love Stories





The sights, sounds, stories, and tastes of China enveloped 300 guests at the recent International Women Associates (IWA) gala, China: Love Through the Dynasties. Long celebrated for their themed events that make global understanding and cross-cultural exchange magical, IWA raised over $90,000 to support exchange programs and philanthropic initiatives.


Kathleen Thornburg, Doe Thornburg, and Okbin Flodstrom.

Glorious that night in red, IWA’s Founder and Chief International Development Officer, as well as mentor to so many throughout her decades-long tenure, Doe Thornburg explained the excitement of the event just before her death May 25 at age 95. As Doe is mourned internationally, it seems fitting that her remarks about the benefit explain her own commitment to love across boundaries.

“IWA was excited to showcase China and love stories throughout Chinese history. Gala attendees saw how love is an eternal topic for both China and in western countries, whether it be romantic love, love of country, familial love, or more. Love has no boundaries. The night united attendees from many different international backgrounds. At IWA we always see the sacred in everyone and treat others with dignity and respect, no matter the differences.”

Always dashing in her appearance—often with a bright flower on her shoulder—witty, smiling, and bright, Doe brought people to the table not only through the force of her personality but the irresistible invitation to come along on her adventures. In addition to her work for many global organizations such as the IWA, Doe received the Order of the British Empire for her work with the English-Speaking Union where she served as National President Emerita.

Doe founded the cultural and educational organization 40 years ago and headquartered it in Chicago. IWA now has almost 500 women from over 60 countries engaging in cross-cultural exchange, community service, dialogue, and friendship. By creating connections among people of diverse international backgrounds through its own programs and with other organizations, IWA works toward a more just and peaceful world.


Elizabeth Jia.


Peter, Alexandra, and Ling Arenson.

This year’s International Women Associates Gala Committee was led by IWA member and Gala Chair, Elizabeth Ru Jia; Co-Chairs Ling Arenson, Joyce Zhang, Lucia Lee, Margo Binay; IWA Organizational Manager Pilaar Pantoja; and IWA’s Melisa Bulut. The Deputy Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in Chicago, Liu Jun, was in attendance.


Melisa Bulut, Gina Loizzo, Malika Tarabichi, Pilaar Pantoja, Colleen Morrison, and Laurel Arlis.

With the support from the Consulate in Chicago, the gala committee provided authentic Chinese immersion. Throughout the evening guests were entertained by Chinese cultural performances, including the traditional lion dance and the graceful long sleeve dance in which dancers use long silk sleeves to highlight the harmony between body and soul. The Chinese Music Ensemble from Northern Illinois University performed.


A Lion Dancer makes his entrance.


Sunny Yu Dancers.

Guests were also treated to a Qipao Fashion Walk. The Qipao dress, inspired by the Qing dynasty, was created in the 1920s in Shanghai and made fashionable by socialites. The style of the Qipao dress has evolved over the decades and is still worn today.

This year’s event added an after-party at which younger members and guests were able to join the celebration after dinner and dance to the DJ’s mix of Chinese pop music and current hits—something that must have brought great joy to Doe.


Late night dancing continues.

The evening featured a ten-course authentic Chinese banquet, prepared by award-winning Chef Elmo Han of the Shanghai Terrace at The Peninsula Chicago and served family-style on revolving tabletops set on each table in the traditional Chinese custom.


Andy Salk, Elizabeth Jia, and Marian and Jeff Jacobson.

IWA President Marian Jacobson explained that the gala was the culminating of six months of celebration:

“Events such as a film screening featuring Asian Pop-Up Cinema; a Chinese concert with Elaine Wang, also known as ‘Little Teresa Teng’; a traditional Chinese tea ceremony at the Tea Bar; and a Chinese New Year celebration at Lao Sze Chuan allowed IWA members and guests to learn about China’s history and reputation for natural beauty, fashion, culture, and, of course, love, which has no boundaries.”

IWA’s annual gala is the organization’s largest fundraising event, supporting IWA programs, operations, community service, and philanthropic initiatives. IWA’s philanthropic focus is on K-8th grade students at the George B. Swift Specialty School, a Chicago Public School that serves a population of low-income immigrant and refugee families. IWA provides books, offers crucial reading and math tutoring, and funds educational enhancement programs for Swift students. Every year IWA also awards the Doe Thornburg Scholarships to support Chicago-area female college students pursue study abroad programs.

IWA awards the Woman Extraordinaire honorarium annually, which supports the global humanitarian efforts of an outstanding woman, and thereby extends the reach of IWA beyond Chicago.


Bruce Dong, Junlan Guo, and Jane Wang.


Chinese dancers and Grace Wu, center.


Jackie Knight, Robert Scharfman, and Linda Glick.


Hon. Umut Acar, Consul General of Turkey, and Mrs. Nadia Acar.


Live Auction led by Keith Jones of Sayre and Jones.


Cindi Sodolski and son Ben Sodolski.


Elizabeth Jia; Marian Jacobson; Sevil Kutay; Nadia and Hon. Umut Acar (Turkey); and Olavi Goos, Honorary Consul Finland, and Katarina Andersson.


Ying and Evan Hirsh.


IWA Gala Committee volunteers.


Colleen Morrison, Pilaar Pantoja, Penny Kendall, Cheryl Merchant, and Keith Jones.


Marie Hale of @revenue streaming the Gala live.


Elaine Wang, Bruce Dong, and Ying Hirsh.

For further information about IWA and its activities and programs, please visit iwachicago.org or contact Pilaar Pantoja: iwa@iwachicago.org or (312) 263-1421.

Photo credit: Edgar Wang