Retro Click: Hat Parties

             Lunching in the Parks Chicago-Style


Laura Barnett Sawchyn: a lady born to wear great hats.






By Megan McKinney


The Service Club continues to host an annual spring hat luncheon—which this year has been postponed to September 3 at The Drake—but there was an era when the warming season invariably brought out literally hundreds of Chicago ladies wearing major hats to gather under a single tent in one of our beautiful parks.

They were there to support the “enrichment of Chicago’s neighborhood parks” but it was also a delightful way to be in the fresh air of the city’s improving weather. In spring 2007, Parkways Foundation President Laura Sawchyn welcomed 700 into a mammoth tent on Northerly Island. She was assisted by three event co-chairs, Gail Hodges, Diane Kelley and Dona Stone, who managed the logistics of the massive event

Nora Daley Conroy, daughter and granddaughter of Chicago mayors was among the 700 in the Northerly Island tent.

Neither Helen Melchior nor Chicago Tribune social columnist Candace Jordan would be likely to miss an important event then or now.

Noren Ungaretti was Parkways President the year the luncheon was held within a tent constructed on the ice rink in Millennium Park.

Among the co-chairs managing the ice rink pop-up were Caryn Harris, Cynthia Hedlund and Nancy Nadler. They were joined by Kay Krehbiel, Donna La Pietra and Jean Goldman.

Karen Goodyear was never one to miss a hat party; you will see more of Karen wearing a hat as we move along today and in future Retro Clicks.

Enthusiasm for the wide-brimmed Ascot look might have been wearing thin when this foursome, Mamie Walton, Linda Heister, Hazel Barr and Zarada Gowenlock, gave compulsory hat wearing a more than mild ribbing.

Hazel Barr and Bunky Cushing had begun the hat luncheon trend at the turn of the current century with their La Fête du Chapeau to benefit the Chicago History Museum. Hats were mandatory at this series of events, tempting one guest, nameless here, to blatantly sport a ratty old baseball cap in defiance.  

The ruling made the choice of CZ Guest—who never wore a hat in her life–as La Fête du Chapeau’s first guest of honor a puzzling one, but Bunky wanted her and that was that.  

No one had to persuade Bunky’s co-chair, Hazel Barr, to wear a hat, ever.

The second guest of honor, Nan Kempner, surrounded by Mamie Walton, Hazel and Nancy Kelley, was happy to comply.

So was Charlotte Ford, guest of honor another year.

Jocelyn Stoller was still a Chicago girl in those days.

And, as promised, Karen Goodyear was there in another hat from her wonderful collection.


Edited by Amanda K. O’Brien

Photography by Robert F. Carl, Mary Claire, Cheri Eisenberg and Nigel Teare.