Published Jan 23, 2014
Two familiar faces join life trustees at TCH
Chimenti, Johnson recognized for establishing theater program and years
By Pamela Lannom
As Jeni Fabian began describing the new life trustee to be named at The Community House’s Holiday Ball, Norm Chimenti and Dick Johnson were wondering on whom the honor would be bestowed.
“I’m racking my brain trying to think of people — other than myself — who might fit the description that she was giving,” Chimenti said.
Neither expected to hear his own name announced.
“I was overwhelmed. I was disbelieving and overwhelmed,” Chimenti said.
Johnson had the same reaction.
“I didn’t ever expect that this kind of thing to come my way,” Johnson said.
“I’ve said to many people it’s one of the, if not the, greatest honor I’ve ever received because it came out of nowhere,” continued Johnson, a national Emmy Award-winning reporter for NBC 5 Chicago. “It was a wonderful way to culminate many years that I enjoyed giving time here and starting and supporting programs that I really loved.”
Fabian said it was “true joy” to make the announcement, especially since it was so unexpected.
“That was such great fun to be able to keep the surprise from both of them,” she said.
Typically The Community House board annually names one individual a life trustee, but this year was an exception, Fabian said.
“In the case of Dick and Norm, they have been joint partners in so many ways, especially in our theater program,” she said. “The support they have given to The Community House has been done together for so many years. It seemed right to honor them both at the same time.”
Although the two have devoted an enormous amount of energy to the Community Revue and The Community House Players, their introduction to The Community House predates either of those projects.
Chimenti was first introduced to the agency while a student at Hinsdale Central, when Ly Hotchkin was executive director.
“I was president of the Youth Center when I was a senior in high school,” he said, adding that then-Executive Director Ly Hotchkin was his boss.
“She terrified me and I was intimated by her and terrified by her and still am,” he joked, “but then went on The Community House board 35 years later.
Chimenti volunteered with the Picnic Plus fundraiser, as did Johnson.
The two were part of the first Community Revue, spearheaded in 1997 by Gerry Sweeney. After the third such fundraiser in 2000, they joined forces with Jay Tuthill to put together a business plan to bring community theater to The Community House. The first show was a summer performance of “Music Man,” which Johnson produced.
For 10 years, The Community House Players offered regular shows during the year and summer shows featuring teens and young adults. All of them were produced by either Chimenti, Johnson or Tuthill.
“We basically volunteered ourselves to death,” Johnson said.
“That’s why we haven’t done a show for the last three years,” Chimenti added. “We just ran out of steam.”
The Community Revue has lived on, and both Chimenti and Johnson point to last year’s show as providing their favorite on-stage memories of each other.
Chimenti said Johnson surpassed previous performances with his portrayal of Carlos, a gay Latino wedding planner, in “The Book of Hinsdale.”
“His wedding planner character this past show was so funny and so entertaining that it was difficult for me to act off of him because I found it very difficult to stay in character, because he kept cracking me up.”
The role is also a favorite of Johnson’s.
“I always played the effete snob in every other review, which wasn’t a long stretch for me,” said Johnson, citing his Connecticut upbringing. “This was something I could just jump into the character and not be myself at all.”
Johnson enjoyed watching Chimenti play a sleazy TV producer in the same show and said he was surprised at how much he ended up appreciating a duet Chimenti did with his wife, B.J. — a number he thought would be cut.
“It actually became very touching, to the point where I’m getting emotional thinking about it,” he said.
Chimenti said working with his wife has made the experience all the more rewarding.
“I saw it not so much as an opportunity to do something different for myself but as an opportunity for the two of us to do something together,” Chimenti said.
Johnson has enjoyed sharing the stage with his children, particularly when daughter Maclayne was an orphan in “Annie” and he played President Roosevelt.
“This is really a lasting impression moment for the family to be involved in a show like this and to, at least, for me — because I love doing theater and watching theater — to have the kids involved in some way.”
Theater has been an important part of life for both men. Playing the lead role in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” in high school changed his life, Johnson said, providing him the opportunity to break out of expectations that he would play football or basketball. He believes community theater can give young people that same permission to discover themselves.
“You don’t have to do what people think you should do or what your parents have sized you up to be,” he said.
Although The Community House Players has essentially disbanded, Johnson said he hopes the program made a difference and will continue to do so.
“I hope that we’ve made a contribution to take The Community House to the next level and so the next people who are investing their time can do the same and give back to the next generation of the community the experiences that we had here and took from it,” he said.
“We’re now presented with yet another great opportunity to be involved,” Chimenti added. “Now it kind of legitimizes hanging out over here, which we enjoy doing anyway.”
Fabian said she’ll be happy to see the two spend more time at The Community House.
“We’re just thrilled to welcome Norm and Dick to the life trustees family and look forward to their insights in partnering with us and all the life trustees as we move forward,” Fabian said.
And Chimenti and Johnson will remain humbled to be part of that group.
“It doesn’t seem fair that I should be honored because I feel I owe more to The Community House than it owes me,” Chimenti said.
Johnson echoed that sentiment.
“This place enriched my life for two decades and that was thank you enough,” he said. “I didn’t need ‘life trustee’ to say thank you. It was a remarkable moment to have.”
Dedication to TCH lives on in designees
Life trustees at The Community House are selected by the governance committee of the board of trustees, Executive Director Jeni Fabian said. They often are individuals who have served as chairman of the board or who have devoted many hours over many years to the nonprofit agency.
This year’s life trustees, Norm Chimenti and Dick Johnson, join a group of 26.
They are Ardie Baroni, Henry Bates, Winston Black Jr., Kevin Burke, Michael Connelly, Richard Decker, David Fox, William Gray, Ann Grube, Kenneth Hadland, Ly Hotchkin, Dennis Keller, Fred Krehbiel, Jay McGreevy, James Parsons, Suzanne Petree, Sally Porter, Phillip Rooney, John Rose, Edward Ryan, Samuel Stout Jr., Frank Swan, Katharine Sylvester, George Trees Jr., James Tuthill Jr. and Robert Wangard.
The life trustees have supported The Community House in a variety of ways. Fabian said the group will be tapped to assist the organization in planning for its 75th anniversary in 2016.
“Life trustees are important connectors to our past, present and future and we want them all to be involved in helping us build the vision forward for The Community House,” she said. “We’re always looking for ways to reach out that will help them be involved in ways that are most meaningful to them.”