Diane Simmons—Someone You Should Know

July 2017 View more

It takes a year of planning and more than 4,000 volunteers to pull off Naperville’s largest summer celebration. From humble beginnings on Rotary Hill, Ribfest has grown into a nationally recognized BBQ event, featuring popular musicians and attracting hundreds of thousands of people annually. At the helm of this year’s fest is Naperville resident Diane Simmons.

As the 2017 Ribfest Chair, Simmons oversees all aspects of this four-day event. She began preparing for her role years ago. “Technically, Ribfest chair is a four-year commitment,” she explains. “The first two years you serve on the steering committee, the third year you are in charge and the fourth year you advise.” When asked why she wanted to take on such a large role, Simmons says it was basically on her volunteer bucket list. “I’ve been a member of the Exchange Club for more than twenty-three years. During that time I’ve chaired almost all the other events we sponsor. Chairing Ribfest was a challenge I really wanted to take on.”

Simmons is a mother of three and lifelong Naperville resident. After graduating from Benet Academy she attended the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and earned a degree in elementary education. When she isn’t spending countless hours volunteering, Simmons works in commercial real estate and property management for Century 21.

Ribfest history
Naperville’s first Ribfest was held Father’s Day weekend 1988 on Rotary Hill, with only a handful of rib vendors and one beer truck. Organizers quickly realized the popular event needed space to grow. Working with the park district, the Exchange Club moved Ribfest to Knoch Park to coincide with the music and fireworks of Naperville’s July 4th celebration.

While it may be lost on the casual attendee, the primary focus of Ribfest is to raise funds to help end child abuse and domestic violence. Over the past thirty years, the Exchange Club of Naperville has contributed $15.5 million to the community in support of this effort. Having served as chairperson of allocations for fifteen years, Simmons has had the pleasure of directly donating funds to local charities. “Being able to give the money to charities is a such great feeling. Although it can get hot, being out at Ribfest never feels like a chore for me because I’ve seen all the good that we do,” she states.

Celebrating the thirtieth with a lot of firsts
Some special things are planned to mark Ribfest’s thirtieth year. First, the Exchange Club is introducing an official Ribfest mascot, who will make appearances in the family area and around the community. In the spirit of Ribfest being “all about kids,” the committee is sponsoring a contest for children to name the mascot. This year also marks the first time Ribfest will be a sanctioned part of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. “We are so excited to be the last qualifying stop before contestants move on to the finals,” Simmons explains. It’s also the first time skybox tickets are being sold individually and are available for purchase online. “Our skybox seats overlook the stage and provide unlimited food, drink and private bathrooms,” Simmons says. Attendees also can expect special anniversary giveaways throughout the event.

Booking a solid entertainment lineup for Ribfest can be challenging, so Simmons is especially excited about this year’s performers. “We live in a competitive market with a number of for-profit venues that edge us out for musicians,” she explains. “I have to say, though, that our lineup this year is fantastic.”

As this year’s chair, Simmons is hoping for record-breaking crowds and to sell the one-millionth beer. If ticket pre-sales are any indication, she just may get her wish. “Now we just need to pray for good weather,” she adds.

Ribfest 2017
This year’s event runs from Friday, June 30, to Monday, July 3, along West Street in Knoch Park. Note the fireworks display will be on July 3 this year. Music schedules, a “ribbers” vendor listing, carnival bracelet information and tickets—including the new skybox seats—are available at ribfest.net.