- Jan 19, 2017
The Corporate Citizen of the Year is recognized for promoting a spirit of giving and community involvement.
After opening its doors in Chicago nearly 160 years ago, little did the founders of family owned A.W. Zengeler Cleaners ever imagine the impact their dry cleaning company would have. Established by John Zengeler in 1857, the company has grown from a steam and dye works business to Illinois’ largest and one of America’s oldest and largest family owned dry cleaning businesses, operating a central plant, two package plants, and eight stores, including its headquarters in Northbrook, with over 150 employees.
One of the hallmarks of the family-owned company, passed down from generation to generation five times over, is service to the community. Zengeler has found traditional as well as creative ways over the years to give back to the communities it serves. As a sign of its commitment to its neighbors, the Zengeler website homepage and building marquis signs always feature news about its charitable events and activities.
Among its many charities, Zengeler is best known for its partnership for the last 16 years with the Glass Slipper Project, a Chicago based charity. Both organizations work hard to transform the dream of attending Senior Prom into reality for thousands of northern Illinois high school young women by providing gowns, shoes and accessories to those who cannot afford them. Over the years, Zengeler’s involvement has grown exponentially and is now almost synonymous with the event.
Zengeler not only collects the used gowns from donors, but inspects, repairs, and cleans each dress, all at no cost to anyone. The Zengeler stores also take on the responsibility of storing the items on site. Every year fifth generation owner, Tom Zengeler, often accompanied by one of his daughters, delivers thousands of gowns and other items in several vans to the boutiques that are held for the young women to shop during prom season. The program has been so successful that it’s become a year -round project.
Over the years the number of dresses collected has grown from several hundred a year, to several thousand, and last year a record 5,287 dresses were collected. Since partnering with the Glass Slipper project, Zengeler has collected in total over 44,000 dresses valued at almost $22 million. Estimates are that over 3,000 students every year benefit from this generosity.
Zengeler’s involvement has had a ripple effect in the community as well. “The impact from the Glass Slipper Project touches so many in a positive way that each year, we receive inquiries from other schools and businesses asking how they can also support this cause,” comments Tom Zengeler. Numerous area high schools, including Glenbrook North have started their own collection drives, pitching in to help Zengeler out.
The Zengeler family also has strong ties to Rotary, a worldwide organization known for providing humanitarian services. Fourth generation family member Bob Zengeler, who in his 80s still works full time at the Libertyville store, helped found Libertyville Rotary 50 years ago.
Tom Zengeler, great, great grandson of the original founder of the company is a charter member of the Libertyville Rotary Sunrise. Since it was founded in 1987, he has never missed a meeting. A few years ago, he spearheaded the annual “Coats for Vets” project. In 2016 alone 4,128 coats, gloves and scarves and other winter clothing valued at $400,000 were collected, cleaned, repaired and delivered to the hospital on Veterans Day last November.
But Zengeler’s commitment and interest in the community extends beyond just one or two favored charities. With locations throughout the North Shore in addition to Northbrook, their record of charitable contributions includes numerous financial donations to worthy organizations in each or their towns. In Northbrook alone, Zengeler supports Northbrook Days, Northbrook Action baseball and the Northbrook Hockey League, Northbrook Rotary, Northbrook Days, the Northbrook Symphony Orchestra, Fourth of July and the Northbrook Women’s Club Foundation. A member of the Chamber since opening their doors in Northbrook over 50 years ago, Zengeler is also a consistent supporter of the organization, annually supporting the Golf Outing and Auction and Taste.
“Our commitment to help our neighbors is an extremely important part of our rich history and our legacy” comments Tom Zengeler. “Just as we take pride in our state of the art business, we believe strongly in the importance of giving back wherever and whenever we can.”
Zengeler will donate its $500 honorarium to The Northbrook Historical Society.