Glenna Elvery wishes there were more people like herself.
Not because she owns The Cottage on Dixie, Homewood’s popular upscale restaurant.
And not because she’s the 2015 winner of the Abby Foundation’s Woman of the Year award.
Elvery, who has supported South Suburban Family Shelter, Jones Memorial Center, Tall Grass Arts Association, Suburban Youth Symphony Orchestra and other south suburban nonprofits, wishes others would do what she does — host fundraisers for local charitable organizations in her own home.
“Invite people to come over, collect money at the door, and give it to a charity,” she said. “It’s worth the time, it’s worth the money, and it’s definitely worth the mess afterward. It’s awesome.”
She and her husband, Pastor Dudley Elvery, built an 8,200-square-foot Prairie Style house on Western Avenue just south of Vollmer Road, in Olympia Fields. Their dream house, “it had to be accessible to people with all handicaps, because I’d had an uncle who used a wheelchair. And it had to have a flow so we could entertain up to 100 people,” she said. As soon as it was finished, they opened their doors for their first fundraiser, which benefitted South Suburban Family Shelter. The cause is close to her heart;
Elvery’s first husband was abusive. Seeing a need throughout the community, she expanded to other charities as well.
Her support recently earned her the Abby Foundation’s highest honor.
“It was a very big surprise,” Elvery said. The organization raises money and distributes it to established nonprofits that help women and their children. It also funds scholarships for young women and returning women pursuing an education.
Charitable support was something she learned at home. She was raised on Chicago’s South Side, her father serving as the 10th Ward Republican committeeman. “I saw him get involved with a lot of local people and their charities,” she said.
When it came time to work, Elvery says she would have been a forensic scientist “if the job had existed back then.” Instead, her own career ranged widely, from law to state government work, real estate, insurance, and finally manufacturing, a field where she worked when her first marriage ended and her own charitable work began.
“I kept hearing about different causes, and since I was a single mom raising two kids, I didn’t have any money to spare, but I had two hands.” Her first volunteer experience was cooking in a soup kitchen in Harvey. It was the 1970s.
In the 1990s, she met her current husband. Together, they took care of aging parents, then built their dream house. At the first fundraiser, the idea for opening a restaurant took a firm hold. Unsatisfied with much of the catered food she had ordered, Elvery whipped together appetizers for 100 guests as a supplement. The wait staff and bartenders who worked for the catering company were struck by the quality of the food, by Elvery’s well-stocked and well-organized kitchen, and by her ability to come through in a pinch. “They told me, ‘You should open a restaurant,’” she recalled with a laugh.
The idea resonated with Elvery and her husband. Self-professed “foodies,” they enjoyed fine dining in Chicago. “But we also were tired of the long drive, the high cost of parking, and the long drive back home, particularly if you wanted to enjoy any alcohol,” she said. “We decided there was a real need in the south suburbs for a downtown restaurant.”
When she looked at the former Baker’s Square, Elvery discovered gorgeous wooden beams that had been hidden by ceiling tiles. “That was all it took. The restaurant named itself.”
They hired staff and opened on January 26, 2013, featuring a farm-to-table menu that has won high praise from restaurant critics and been featured on television programs including WTTW’s Check, Please! It has even drawn diners from all over the Chicago area, much to Elvery’s delight.
“I think people from the South Side are nicer, and we work harder,” she said. “The South Side has money. It has class. And now look what we have – a downtown restaurant.”
Elvery is hosting Spooktoberfest!, a fundraiser for the Suburban Youth Symphony Orchestra, at her home on Sunday, Oct. 25. Participants can enjoy an evening of string music celebrating the coming of autumn and Halloween. To purchase tickets, interested persons can go to www.suburbanyouthsymphony.org.
Photos by Tom Houlihan/HF Chronicle.