OLD IRVING PARK — Once a month, the women of the 3800 block of North Kildare Avenue have a big party.
The Old Irving Park block party has been a tradition for 60 years. The women make up the Kildare Coffee Klatch group, which started in 1962 under a woman on the block eager to meet her neighbors and welcome them to the Northwest Side.
The group, which has about 18 members, celebrated its 60th anniversary in September. Its roots run so deep that women on the block say attending is a rite of passage. Newcomers, such as Lauren Swanson, see it as a representation of neighbors’ kindness, she said.
“I don’t know if it’s this block or this neighborhood, but it’s really lovely to have this sense of community, and it seems like people actually care about what is going on with their neighbors,” said Swanson, who moved to the block in August.
As an ode to the group’s previous members — some of whom have moved away, stopped coming or died — each person introduces themselves by their numerical address and the name of their home’s previous owner.
Although the group’s traditions have evolved over the decades, its core remains the same: It’s a communal time to gather, share life updates, snack and drink coffee and tea — though these days, the drinking has expanded to include wine.
The coffee klatch, a German phrase that’s known as an “informal conversation at which coffee is served,” meets every third Friday of the month from September to June at a different person’s house.
The group took a pause during the height of the pandemic and instituted “kurbside klatch,” gathering outside between May and October 2021. After more outdoor patio meetups this year, the klatch group decided to move the party back indoors.
The group recently gathered for its October meetup, the first indoor hangout since the beginning of COVID, said Carolyn Frazier, who has lived on the block since 2016 but has been in the neighborhood since 2011.
“The woman who sold us the house said, ‘I leave you the Kildare Coffee Klatch — it’s a bunch of 80-year-old ladies,'” Frazier said. “I went and I said, ‘Where are all the 80-year ladies?'”
As one of the older members, Frazier said the group’s age diversity and the new generation of homeowners on the block represent the change in the neighborhood — but still, the tradition remains strong.
Marian Roche, 85, is the oldest member of the group and remembers joining the coffee klatch shortly after she moved to the area in 1969. At her block’s Labor Day weekend outdoor party — which neighbors think was the first block party in the city — she met the women planning a coffee gathering.
“I thought, ‘When I go there, I will not know a living soul, but I am going to join,’ and that and that is what I did,” Roche said. “At first it was on Wednesday evenings, and that was because most women were not working women.”
When more women started going to work, the day was changed to Friday, she said.
When Roche hosted the klatch at her home, she’d keep track of attendance with handwritten notes of everyone’s names and their RSVP. Nowadays, attendance is digital, but Roche relishes in the analog format that reminds her of the beginning of a lasting community.
“The year before last, when I had my birthday, [my neighbor] got a birthday cake and they all sang happy birthday to me outside,” she said. “It was so nice — I am spoiled because every day has been so nice to me.”
Roche can’t remember how many times she hosted the event in her 53 years on the block, but she knows it was a handful. She’s made dark raisin cake, lemon bars and other cakes that were a hit with coffee, she said.
Roche stopped hosting the klatches in 2015 as she got older, but she is still an active member and helps co-host. Because of her hearing and age, she didn’t attend the “kurbside klatches,” which makes the return of the indoor meetups an even sweeter reunion, she said.
“We have had such a down period of time that it brings hope and joy [and] shows the camaraderie of the people,” she said.
Lindsey Evans, a mother of four, said the klatch is almost like a rite of passage when moving into the block. Her family moved from Ukrainian Village to Old Irving Park in 2015 and was quickly invited to join.
It was exactly why Evans picked the family-friendly neighborhood and block: It’s a place that offers a communal culture inside a bustling city without moving to the suburbs, she said.
And a culture that has been passed on to the newer members and will hopefully continue to the next generation of homeowners on the block, Evans said.
“I could not believe this world existed in the city,” Evans said. “I am really grateful for some random person I’ve never met for starting this group. It’s timeless.”
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