Foresters started national group here 120 years ago

By Meg McDonnell | Contributor
Sunday, July 3, 2011

For 120 years, the National Catholic Society of Foresters has provided life insurance to Catholic families. For this fraternal insurance company, the work they undertake is more than just monetary aid, it’s temporal aid as well — ensuring that their brothers and sisters in Christ are cared for in their time of need.

“Early in 1891, a mother of six children in Holy Family Parish in Chicago, Ill., passed away,” reads the history of the Foresters. Compelled by this family’s tragedy, the parish took up a collection to cover the mother’s funeral arrangements. And inspired by this generosity, women in the parish gathered together to form an organization to provide for needs such as this. The organization is the Foresters.

On June 25, the Foresters gathered to celebrate their 120th anniversary. The celebration began with Mass, celebrated by Cardinal George, at St. Raymond Parish in Mount Prospect. Following Mass, members of the Foresters and their families were invited to a reception at the national headquarters, also located in Mount Prospect.

Simple beginnings

The beginning of the Foresters “was quite a feat,” said National Secretary Pat DeNys, “Because [at the time it began] women couldn’t even vote.” What started as a life insurance organization for women is now a nationwide organization for men and women, licensed in 17 states, with an active member base.

“I’ve been a member all my life,” said Rita Schnieder of St. John’s, Ind., former national vicepresident and current president of her local court (the name given to chapters) in Hammond, Ind. Schnieder’s mother, grandmother, and aunt were all members.

Since Schnieder grew up in a time when women didn’t drive, once she obtained her drivers’ license, it was her job to take her mother to the member meetings. It was then that her active membership began.

“As long as you’re sitting there, you might as well do something,” she recalled the members telling her. And so for years, Schnieder has been donating her time and talents to charity events through the Foresters, such as their work with Alzheimer’s research, which she remains involved in outside of the Foresters.

“I’ve really enjoyed all my years with the Foresters,” Schnieder said. “We’re there for people.”

In fact, many members of the life insurance side of Foresters attest that the Foresters check is often the first check they receive after someone in the family passes away.

Beyond insurance

Vivian Teemer, a long-time Chicago member of Foresters can attest to the compassion exhibited by the members of Foresters. Presently, Teemer serves as president of Court 391, which just celebrated its 110th anniversary, in Chicago.

“We raise money for churches, Little Sisters of the Poor, schools, Alzheimer’s organizations,” and other areas of need, Teemer said. And for all the money raised locally, the national office will match up to $1,000, a huge plus for these fundraisers.

But the Foresters do more than fundraise. They serve at the food kitchens, care for the sick and visit those in nursing homes, said Teemer, who also cares for her elderly brother and sister.

“It’s a nice group,” Teemer said. “We just have a good time.”