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Hats off to Paula: Spirit Award winner passionate about Lisle
By Joan Broz | Daily Herald Columnist

Mayor Joseph Broda presents Paula Gleason with the 2010 Lisle Spirit Award for her tireless volunteerism.


Courtesy of the village of Lisle

Paula Gleason, who volunteers as a village ambassador at Lisle's French Market, is known for her hats that often fit the theme of the occasion.


Courtesy of Catherine Schuster

Paula Gleason is known throughout Lisle for her hats and for her volunteer efforts promoting the town.


Courtesy of Paula Gleason

Paula Gleason's parrot hat, worn when a Jimmy Buffett tribute band played at the French Market, is legendary in Lisle.


Courtesy of Catherine Schuster

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Published: 2/15/2010 12:09 AM

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Volunteers are the backbone of many Lisle organizations - just ask longtime Lisle resident Paula Gleason.

Gleason brings her enthusiasm, willingness and fun-loving spirit to her extensive list of volunteer activities, exemplified by her collection of hats.

"I'm a lady who likes to wear hats," Gleason said. "I wear one everywhere I go. I have enough hats that I could open up my own hat store."

With hundreds of hats, the self-professed organized person stores her collection by seasons. She keeps the caps, berets, newsboy styles and similar flat items together. Hats with large brims or crushable embellishments are in hat boxes.

Last month, dressed in an attractive matching fur-like hat and vest, Gleason was surprised and "overwhelmed" when given the 2010 Lisle Spirit Award from Mayor Joseph Broda.

"My nature is to become passionate about anything I get involved in," Gleason said. "I told (the audience) that I am inspired by our mayor because he is so extremely passionate about Lisle."

Broda created the Lisle Spirit Award to honor individuals who devote their time and talents to make Lisle a better place to live. The first award, given in January, 2003, went to Diane Tuscher-Ancede for her artistic efforts on the Main Street tunnel. The next year, Pat DeAngelo and Debbie Pallardy received the honor for establishing the Lisle Character Counts Alliance. In 2005,

Katie and Carrie Straub were honored for organizing the Memorial Flag Rally and the Lisle Teens with Character.

With no honoree in 2006, Wayne Dunham took home the honor in 2007 for co-chairing Lisle's 50th Anniversary yearlong celebration, for his years at the helm of the Lisle Eyes to the Skies committee and for co-chairing the yearly Polar Express Santa train.

The next year, honoree Renard Herrera's skills as a quality photographer were recognized. Herrera's exceptional effort to photograph Lisle and every community activity left the village a legacy of photographic memories.

In 2009, Mayor Broda departed from his pattern by honoring the entire Lisle downtown business community "for their patience and understanding as the downtown went through reconstruction."

This year, Gleason's ardent involvement in the Lisle Area Chamber of Commerce and with the Lisle French Market earned her the honor.

The chamber dynamo serves on its board of directors, its Business Expo committee and its Ambassador program, where she mentors new members.

"Paula also is on the Government Affairs committee and traveled recently with a group to Springfield," said Tom Althoff, president and CEO of the Lisle Area Chamber. "She does her best to attend all ribbon-cuttings and Business After Hours."

Since 2008, Gleason has worked with her 12-member committee to organize the chamber's annual dinner dance. Her idea to include "Dancing with the Stars" using local talent gave ticket sales a large boost.

"The event is a lot like throwing a wedding with a lot of details," Gleason said. "Our auction that has about 75 items is always spectacular."

Gleason was named Ambassador of the Year for the Lisle Area Chamber of Commerce in 2005 and twice given the organization's Volunteer of the Year honors. She received a Lisle Pillar Award in 2007 for the contagious enthusiasm she brought each week to the Lisle French Market.

"Paula volunteered just about every Saturday as a village ambassador at the market," said Catherine Schuster, Lisle economic development director. "She is a jewel. She is a great example of Lisle spirit, volunteerism and dedication."

The French Market features vendor booths with an eclectic array of goods, including farmers' produce, fresh bread, jewelry, wine and gifts. It operates from May through October in the north commuter parking lot in downtown Lisle.

"The market is a great way to bring people to our downtown area," Schuster said.

Gleason's signature hats always highlight a theme of the day. She began by wearing a French beret, then donned Mickey Mouse ears for a children's show and a parrot hat for the Jimmy Buffett impersonator.

Gleason downsized when she moved to Lisle in 1991 after raising her family in Glen Ellyn. When she looked for opportunities to become active in her new community, she joined her neighborhood's homeowners' organization, in which she still serves as recording secretary. By joining the Lisle chamber, she developed a passion for Lisle.

"I love this community," Gleason said. "I convince businesses to come here and encourage everyone to shop the businesses we have in our community."

Gleason's enthusiasm for helping others has not waned. She is on the board of directors for the Woodridge Community Pantry and is working on its dinner cabaret April 25. Ticket information is at (630) 512-9921 or

Gleason laughs when people tell her they see her everywhere they go. Granted, she is an election judge and works part time for Bensidoun USA. Until recently, she also was the daytime caregiver for her three young grandchildren.

"I am very organized and at something all the time," Gleason said. "The busier you are, the more you can fit into your day."

• Joan Broz writes about Lisle. E-mail her at