Building a Community

Photography provided by the Cincinnati Parks Foundation

Eleven years ago, women of the Greater Cincinnati area joined together to create the Women’s Committee of Smale Riverfront Park. The Women’s Committee is a subcommittee within the Cincinnati Parks Foundation. Women’s Committee co-founders Helen Heekin and Debbie Oliver created the Hats Off Luncheon to bring these women together around a common purpose: to endow, maintain and preserve riverfront green space and to educate the public to become stewards of this irreplaceable urban treasure. To date, the Women’s Committee has raised more than $2.3 million from these events. 

This year marks the 11th annual Hats Off Luncheon presented by Cincinnati Parks Foundation and the Women’s Committee of Smale Riverfront Park. Proceeds support preservation and programming initiatives for future generations to enjoy. This year, event co-chairs are Cathy Caldemeyer and her two daughters, Lisa Diedrichs and Madeline “Maddie” Caldemeyer. 

Cathy Caldemeyer previously served as co-chair for the event and is delighted to renew the experience with her daughters. “Obviously, the event has become more well attended,” she says about changes from her first stint as co-chair in 2010. “Now it’s one of the top fundraisers in the city. Much of the park has been completed, but we’re not finished yet.” 

Cathy, Lisa and Maddie lead an intrepid team of 104 women who serve as volunteers on eight working committees that organize and execute all aspects of the event.

A Preview Party open to all Hats Off Luncheon sponsors, hosts and hostesses is scheduled for Thursday, April 6. The law offices of Graydon will host the event in their new location on the 18th floor of Scripps Center, downtown. Lisa Diedrichs, who is an attorney for Graydon, says, “Graydon has not only given me the freedom and resources to have countless meetings both in and outside the office to plan this event, but more importantly my partners and colleagues have given me their support. Charitable work is expected, encouraged and rewarded at Graydon, and is ingrained in our culture. I know I am biased, but between the people and the culture Graydon is the best possible place to work.” 

Preview Party co-chairs are Jen Ragland, co-owner of Alligator Purse, and Jenn Bastos, owner of Castle House, which are both located in Hyde Park Square. The guest list includes models wearing the latest dresses from Alligator Purse and hats by milliner Karen Morris of St. Paul, Minnesota, who will be on hand with hats from her 2017 collection. Her work has been featured in Elle and Vogue and on runways around the globe. 

New to this year’s Hats Off Luncheon committee is the Young Professionals Outreach committee. Co-chairs are Maddie Caldemeyer and Lindsey Lewis. “I believe it’s important to get young professionals involved in the parks so that the next generation of the Women’s Committee can continue the greening of Cincinnati after Smale Riverfront Park is completed,” Caldemeyer says. “We have one of the best parks systems in the country and not only do we want to maintain that, but we also want to continue to improve our city’s green spaces.” 

The women serving on this committee have created their own “YP Event Series” to engage a new generation of supporters in the mission of Cincinnati Parks Foundation. One hundred tickets were offered to the series that includes a cocktail party, a bus tour of Cincinnati Parks’ “hidden gems” and the Hats Off Luncheon. The series kicked off March 30 with a cocktail party in the home of Lori Wellinghoff, DIGS |Real Estate|Design|Construction| founder and a director of the Cincinnati Parks Foundation. The April 28 “Views and Brews” will take guests through the hidden gems and feature craft beers from Christian Moerlein and mac ’n’ cheese from Keystone Bar & Grill. The series culminates at the May 18 Hats Off Luncheon. Additionally, a $5,000 challenge grant has been offered by Kirk’s Natural of Erlanger. This will serve as a matching gift for donations received from young professionals ages 21-35.

This year’s luncheon returns to the John G. and Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park Thursday, May 18. This fundraiser kicks off with a champagne reception under the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge followed by entertainment and a gourmet meal on the Great Lawn that features sweeping views of the Ohio River against a lush backdrop of gardens and landscapes. Cathy Caldemeyer will present the Phyllis W. Smale Award, which is given each year in memory of her mother, Phyllis W. Smale. This year’s award will be posthumously awarded to Marian Lindberg in recognition of her vast contribution to Cincinnati Parks. She was a founding member of Cincinnati Parks Foundation and also served as the president of the Cincinnati Park Board of Commissioners. 

Artists with Cincinnati Opera will delight the audience with selections from their upcoming season. This year’s event is notable for the many records it has broken, including the largest committee with 104 volunteers, the most tickets sold with nearly 1,200 guests expected and the most money raised with more than $500,000 in sponsorship.

Cincinnati Parks Foundation is located at 421 Oak Street, Cincinnati, OH 45219. For more information, you can reach them at 513.861.0023, or visit