December 10, 2023
Features | Herald-News

Features | Herald-News

Where all the good witches gather

Annual event raises thousands of dollars each year for women and kids

Pictured are some of the committee members: (front row, from left) Theresa Berkey (co-chair), Mary Lou Gast, Pat Ketelaar, Kimberly Adam, (back row) Tanya Rand, Jenna Crago, Maria Comolli, Katheryn Weidman, Judy Erwin (co-chair), Tiffany Behrens, Denise Maffeo, Mary Barrett and Laurie Keigher.

The witching hour. Some sources reference midnight, some 3 a.m.

But in Joliet, the witching hour comes but once a year. For 2018, it’s 4 p.m. Oct. 18, the date and time of the ninth annual Witches Night Out, a unique grass-roots fundraiser that’s raised a total (so far) of $242,000 for local organizations that benefit women and children.

Its founders, former Joliet resident Kathy Mihelich (who returns every year for WNO) and Judy Erwin of Plainfield (who’s still a co-chairman), modeled the event after a ladies night out, nonbenefit counterpart they’d seen in another town.

Mihelich and Erwin took the idea, added the fundraising component and created a magical night that attracts more and more spellbound costumed attendees every year.

“For starters, this is a ladies night out. We love to get dressed up,” Erwin said. “And if we can get dressed up in a funky way, it’s just so much fun. Also, there’s a little something for everybody.”

Admission cost is $25. Tickets go on sale at noon Sept. 6. Tickets are available online (as is a schedule of events for the night) and tend to sell out within a couple of days. The cost of admission has not increased in several years, Erwin said.

“So often these fundraisers are so expensive, people can’t afford to go,” Erwin said. “This is not a $125 fundraiser. We started off at $10 and then went to $15 because of our overhead costs. But we still think this is affordable. We sell out quickly.”

Features of WNO include a Witches Bazaar (vendors, crafters), food and adult beverages for purchases, psychics, raffles, door prizes and a “very popular” costume contest – with costumes each year becoming “more creative and more elaborate,” Erwin said.

“To first-timers, I will say, ‘Come dressed in black. You won’t be out of it,’ ” Erwin said. “And they’ll walk in the gates and exclaim, ‘Oh my, God! I’ve got an idea for my costume next year!’ People are already planning their costumes as well as knowing this is a party with a purpose. It’s not just going out partying. They know, ‘I can give back.’”

In the early days of Witches Night Out, the planning committee met weekly beginning in August. Now, WNO has an executive committee that meets in March to “lay the groundwork” for the first planning session in June.

That group then meets every other week until the big day. Like the event, the planning committee has grown, from six to 34, Erwin said. Half are women who’ve served at least five years, some are members of recipient agencies, and some are attendees who’ve said, “I want to be part of this group.”

“People who did not know each other when they first started are now the closest of friends,” Erwin said.

Erwin recalled how, at the conclusion of the inaugural WNO, she and Mihelich looked at each other and said, “Well, we did it.” The results surprised them. That first year, WNO raised $14,000. Last year, it was $55,000.

“When I think about the impact we’ve had, I get goose bumps,” Erwin said.

Although not a co-chairman, Theresa Berkey of New Lenox joined the first planning committee and every planning committee after it. Berkey knew Mihelich, so when Mihelich asked her to help, Berkey’s reaction was, “Why not?”

“It’s been great,” Berkey said. “We end up doing a lot of really good things for the agencies, for the community. Sometimes just doing a girlie event is fun. And it just makes people feel good to help those who need it.”

Denise  Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland is the features editor for The Herald-News in Joliet. She covers a variety of human interest stories. She also writes the long-time weekly tribute feature “An Extraordinary Life about local people who have died. She studied journalism at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, now the University of St. Francis.