Organizers getting everything perfect for the president

Scott Hilyard

Pat Alwan isn’t worried about grilling filet mignon kabobs for President Bush on Friday, although he did acknowledge a higher-than-normal level of intensity as the anointed provider of presidential beef, sweet onions and green and red peppers on a stick.

“We’ve done big events before. We can handle that,” said a supremely confident Alwan on Wednesday. He’s a co-owner of Alwan & Sons meat market. “But we do want to make sure everything’s perfect for the prez.”

For the hundreds of guests paying to party with the president at a fundraiser for Republican congressional candidate Aaron Schock, preparation this week amounted to little more than buying a $500 ticket, picking out an outfit and figuring out a way to ditch work on a Friday morning. But those working behind the scenes were pushing against improbable deadlines Wednesday to create as flawless an event as is humanly possible.

“We had 11 days notice,” said Michele Birkner, the owner of Michele’s Floral Events, the provider of floral arrangements for the Bush visit. “We’re more used to having a month or months to help plan for an event like a wedding. I’m not complaining, it’s all very exciting. We were just lucky that we didn’t have anything this weekend or we would have had to turn them down.”

Birkner called on just about everyone she knew this week to come in and help arrange the exotic tropical-themed flowers — like the lushly purple banksia, the orange bird of paradise and the dendrobium orchids — that were arriving from Holland, California, Hawaii and Australia. The flowers were going to be placed on the tables inside an air-conditioned tent on Thursday, 24 hours ahead of the event, Birkner said.

“They just gave us the linen colors and we designed the arrangements from that. They really trust us to work this out on our own,” said Birkner, who had to empty a cooler in the store and jack up the temperature from 38 degrees to about 55 degrees to accommodate the tropical plants. “It’s been hectic, but I’ve got lots of volunteers.”

The atmosphere was the same at Alwan’s, where Pat Alwan was calling in family members and even clients to help plan Friday’s lunch.

“We’re going to have about six grills going — two 8-footers, three 6-footers and maybe some more,” Alwan said. “We got to get ‘em done, get ‘em out fast and serve ‘em hot. I know it’s going to be good.”

Alwan’s catered the Schock fundraiser with former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.

“It’s how we got this gig,” Alwan said. “We must have impressed them that time around.”

Laurie Weaver’s most pressing concern Wednesday was her finals exam at Illinois Central College that evening, not handing over her home and grounds at Weaver Farms first to the Secret Service, then to the nation’s commander in chief and between 500 and 1,000 of his close friends on Friday.

“It hasn’t been easy finding a quiet place in the last couple of days,” Weaver said.

Secret Service employees continued preparing the property on Wednesday for the presidential visit.

“It’s really remarkable to see and the attention to detail,” she said. “They are very, very respectful. Super polite.”

Asked if it would be OK for a reporter and photographer to drop by on Wednesday and watch, Weaver started to agree, but then rethought her inclination toward hospitality.

“Maybe I’d better check,” she said.

She set down her phone. A couple of minutes passed.

“I’m glad I asked,” she said. “They said, uh, no.”

Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or at