Signing Off

- Ben Galewsky


This is my valedictory blog post. After eleven meaningful years as a member of your board of directors, my final term has come to an end. I was elected to my initial term as a director in 2007. At my very first meeting, our newly hired general manager, Jaqueline Hannah, reported that in addition to taxes not having been paid for the past two years, our landlord, the Illinois Disciples Foundation, was selling the building and we had just over a year to relocate! The steady hand of Clint Popetz, the most influential board president in the co-op’s history, helped us all remain optimistic to the possibility of the co-op surviving and growing into the successful business we see today.


The relocation was an audacious project given our shaky finances and compressed timescale. One of my favorite memories was sitting in the Wisegarver room of the IDF with other volunteers stuffing envelopes with information about the owner loan drive. The moment glowed with the dreams of cooperative ownership. After a successful owner loan drive, securing of bank financing, owner volunteer demolition and months of construction the owner-only sneak peek of the new store on Friday evening, August 22, 2008, was a magical evening when we witnessed what we can do together.


That September, I began my first term as the board president, a role that deepened my relationship to the co-op and our growing number of owners. After the hands-on logistics of the move to Lincoln Square, the board was able to start looking ahead and thinking about how we could live our newly drafted ends.

The new beautiful store that finally allowed us to sell to non-owners was a major success. However, it wasn’t long after we opened that we began to see the signs that the store we struggled to finance would soon be too small. We were lauded as the fastest growing food co-op in the country. In 2010, the board started planning on expanding into the vacant “dark room” next to the store.


Around this time, a delightful and inspiring man appeared on the co-op scene. Daniel Schreiber started a bean-to-bar chocolate business. He was on a mission to teach people about the joys of artisan chocolate. His bars were sold at the co-op and other local businesses around town, and Daniel was known and beloved by many in our community. Tragically, on July 28, 2010, he took his own life. It was a terrible shock. People looked for ways to connect with each other in their grief, and the co-op became the natural place for this to happen. We held a memorial service at the store. It was a time that I could see the co-op was so much more than a grocery store. When our new store opened, we dedicated the classroom to Daniel. A fitting memorial to someone who fired us all with the power of local food.


In 2014, I accepted a job in Chicago. Although I continued to call Urbana home, I spent most of the week up in the city and could no longer commit to board meetings. I reluctantly resigned my position for this new chapter in my own life.


By early 2020, I left that job in Chicago and started work at the Supercomputing center on campus. The turnover in co-op management, as well as within the board, made me aware of the growing precariousness of our situation and got me thinking that it could be valuable for me to contribute my long-term experience. I decided to ask to be appointed to fill a persistent board vacancy. I’m so grateful that I was able to serve as a director during the period COVID-19 locked down the world and made us acutely aware that the co-op is an essential business.

I stood for election in September of 2020 and settled into an unusual board year with remote meetings and a virtual MOO. Since then I have watched the board and the General Manager gel as an efficient working team. We worked together to learn how to operate in the world that emerged from the pandemic. It was so gratifying to be at our first in-person MOO at Cloud Mountain this month!


As of this month I have served out my final board term. I feel positive about vacating my seat, knowing that we have a very experienced board who work well together. Our General Manager, Gary rose to the challenge of COVID-19 and has shown great leadership in dealing with the triple crises of staff shortages, supply chain problems and rampant food price inflation. 


It has been an honor to serve the owners of Common Ground throughout this period. I treasure Common Ground’s role in our community and the valuable example it sets for what the cooperative business model is capable of. I have enjoyed deepening my relationship to the co-op by participating directly in its governance, learning about the routine challenges and successes over the years, getting to know the staff by working alongside them, building relationships with other directors and getting to know you, the owners. Most of all I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of Common Ground’s story. I look forward to the years ahead alongside all of you as owners of Common Ground Food Co-op.