Winnetka, Community

‘I’m going to miss the energy’: Barb Tubekis impacts countless others in 30 years with Volunteer Center

Organization to celebrate retiring executive director on May 2

When Barb Tubekis, the former executive director of The Volunteer Center, began her work with the nonprofit in 1994, she thought the stint would last five years — tops.

Fast forward 30 years and Tubekis, of Winnetka, is only now stepping away from the Volunteer Center to focus on her retirement, spend time with her family and begin overdue personal projects, like parsing through the 30-years worth of photos in her basement, as she and her husband joke.

“I’m going to try really hard to stay away so that they can continue to do this on their own, which they are anyways,” Tubekis said.

The Volunteer Center will be honoring Tubekis and celebrating its past 30 years on Thursday, May 2, at the Wilmette Harbor Club. Tickets are, on-theme, $30 and can be purchased online through the day of the event. Light bites will be served, and community members’ anecdotes about Tubekis will be shared. 

The Village of Winnetka Council recognized Tubekis with a proclamation during its April 16 meeting, celebrating her commitment to volunteerism throughout the community.

Tubekis (third from left) with fellow Volunteer Center helpers during Make A Difference Day in 2023.

The Winnetka-based Volunteer Center supports volunteers and the community while serving as a clearing house of sorts, with its website listing more than 160 nonprofits through which it can match volunteers of all ages and abilities to opportunities. The organization also runs major local service projects, such as Make A Difference Day in the fall and a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in the winter.

But in 1994, the Volunteer Center was completely different, down to its name.

Formerly known as The Volunteer Talent Pool — the first volunteer action center in all of Illinois — the organization was established in 1960 as a tutoring project between the North Shore Senior Center, Winnetka Public Schools and New Trier High School. Volunteers would visit local schools to share their knowledge and skillsets. In the mid-1990s, Tubekis and the organization’s board members at the time helped spearhead its rebranding. 

Tubekis and her family had just moved to Winnetka from Northfield. She was working as a freelancer, and her family decided she needed a more reliable part-time job that would still allow her to spend time with her young children. Tubekis found the job opportunity for the Volunteer Center in a 1994 newspaper, and having previously worked with the American Marketing Association, she said she knew it was the right fit. 

Tubekis emphasizes that the evolution of the Volunteer Center was a group effort — a testament to the thoughtfulness of and hard work put in by fellow Volunteer Center staff members, its board of directors through the years and her family members who supported her. 

“I’m the guy in the office,” she said. “We were very lucky, and we are successful because of our board of directors working together — all of us working together.”

When speaking about the support from her son, daughter and husband, Tubekis got choked up. Describing her husband, she said, “And you know whenever I need something, he’s the first one there. He’s the unsung hero. He [and my kids] have been with me the whole time through this.”

Tubekis stepped away from her role as the executive director on Sept. 1, 2023, and stayed on as the board president, a role that she is set to leave on June 30, as she embraces retirement.

During this transitional year, new Executive Director Bridget Lewis had the opportunity to train under Tubekis and develop a friendship with her.

Barb Tubekis (center) said, “the Volunteer Center is going to be here for a long time, and they’re going to change with the times and address it all.”

“Barb is magnetic,” Lewis said. “She attracts people — she attracts people who want to help and build our community because that’s what she wants to do, that’s where her values and her heart are.”

Lewis added, “When I introduce myself and say, ‘I’m the executive director of the Volunteer Center,’ [many community members] say, ‘Well, you have big shoes to fill.’ I smile and nod my head because I know that’s true but feel really confident because I’ve had the support of Barb this whole year in the transition.”

Among Lewis’ favorite memories with Tubekis is the joy of Thanksgiving Day, when the Volunteer Center partnered with the Evanston nonprofit Good News Partners, to donate groceries to those in need, and a line of cars wrapped around the block to make donations. 

Tubekis said she can leave knowing the Volunteer Center is in capable hands, quoting her husband in calling Lewis “heaven sent” as Lewis can move with the times, respecting the Volunteer Center’s past while maintaining and pursuing her vision for the future.

As Tubekis prepares to step away, the sentiment is bittersweet, especially because there’s plenty she’ll miss about the Volunteer Center and the people who fuel it. 

“I’m going to miss the energy of people,” she said. “It’s really motivating. You keep learning.” 

She describes New Trier Township as a caring and wonderful place to live where people, when asked, will do whatever they can to help.

“It is kind of a bubble, but I think it’s also a bubble that folds in caring, and I want it to continue, and I know it will,” Tubekis said. “And the Volunteer Center is going to be here for a long time, and they’re going to change with the times and address it all.”

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Zoe Engels

Zoe Engels (she/her) is a writer and translator, currently working on a book project, from Chicagoland and now based in New York City. She holds a master's degree in creative nonfiction writing and translation (Spanish, Russian) from Columbia University and a bachelor's in English and international affairs from Washington University in St. Louis.

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