The Seeds of Charity: The Story of the High Potentate

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Accidents are not always bad. The word that captures that unexpected good fortune is serendipity. It is “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way,” so says the online dictionary at Google.

My friends and I, a group called the Zeolites, know that experience very well. We came from homes where the idea of charity — giving a hard-won dollar to someone else — was almost unimaginable. But thanks to a sequence of serendipitous events, we learned not just how to donate a single dollar, but over $180,000.

There was no excess money in our childhood homes. And, if you did happen to have a few coins left over, better to save them for rainy days like those that our folks had lived through during the Great Depression of the 1930s — and that they told us might come again. Had there been a sign in my boyhood residence, it might have read:

“Charity Begins at Home? Probably Not There or Anywhere Else”

The video/story of how we came to be accidental philanthropists always brings a smile. It documents an adventure that started in a high school cafeteria 50 years ago. One that began with one person: our buddy Ron Ableman and a meeting he suggested 37 years in advance.

Take a look:

The Story of the High Potentate of the Zeolites.

This beautifully crafted video is the work of Michael G. Kaplan, for which the Zeolite Scholarship Committee is most grateful. One more example of our good fortune. Pictured above are, from left, Ron Ableman, the High Potentate of the Zeolites, and Dr. Neil Rosen at the Zeolite Scholarship Ceremony, May 3, 2013, in Mather High School, Chicago, Illinois. For the High Potentate’s response to the above, please go to:

The High Potentate’s Response.

Honoring Jim Lustig: Speech on Behalf of the Mather High School Class of 1964/65 and the Zeolite Scholarship Fund

Most of you now know that the Zeolites, our 1963/64 high school park district softball team, had a reunion on January 1, 2000. But there were just a few people who knew about it from the start. The adjacent lunch table in Chicago’s Mather High School cafeteria included female friends who’d been told of our plan back in 1963, the year that the idea was hatched: to meet on the front steps of the Museum of Science and Industry in 37 years time. That group included Carolyn and Cathy Bell, Olivia Wasserman, and Judy Maloff.

We got back in touch with them in late 1999 as the reunion day approached, and later let them know that the Culligan Corporation was giving us a grant of $2000 to create something called the Zeolite Scholarship Fund. Some of them even sent us money in support of the project. But, before too long I got an email out of the blue from a man who probably had never heard of the Zeolites and whom I hadn’t seen since 1965. He’d been told about our college scholarship philanthropy for graduating Mather seniors by Carolyn Bell and contacted me to ask if he could help. Soon thereafter we received a very large check from him, one of many that were to follow. To date, he has contributed nearly $5000 to the Zeolite Scholarship Fund, making him our third largest individual contributor. The two guys ahead of him, as you might expect, are Zeolites.

In the 12 years of our existence, that is the only time we received money from someone we didn’t solicit and whom we hadn’t told what we were doing; someone who just happened to hear about us and thought giving money to the project was a good idea. That someone is Jim Lustig, and the story I’ve just related tells you as much as you need to know about the behavioral definition of the word generosity.

Of course, Jim is a University of Chicago Medical School graduate and a highly respected pediatrician. I could tell you much more about his professional accomplishments* — about the recognition he has earned, what he has written and what he has done — but our attachment to Jim is more personal than that. At least four members of the Zeolite Scholarship Committee have gone to him with our own medical concerns or seeking advice about a loved one. Jim is always there, always helpful. Sue Leff Ginsburg will tell you a little bit about her contact with Jim. Then I will say a few more words.

Left to right: Barbara Orloff Litt, Pat McAvoy, Sue Leff Ginsburg, Jan Kozin Gordon, and Joan Lustig

Sue Leff Ginsburg:

In 2006, when our high school graduating class had its first “mini-reunion” dinner at Via Veneto, I was sitting next to Gerry telling the story of my new granddaughter, who was a preemie (premature birth) and wouldn’t eat. My daughter and son-in-law could not find a doctor here who could help and they were so worried and frustrated.  Gerry suggested I ask Jim’s advice, as he was a pediatrician. Now, I knew Jim in high school, he was an acquaintance. So I made my way to his table and started picking his brain. In his very calming, comforting tone, he informed me of the Milwaukee Children’s Hospital and their eating clinic.  My daughter, with Jim’s direction, was able to find doctors who not only had dealt with this before, but had a proven plan to solve it.  Not only did Jim calm two worried parents and a crazed grandmother, but in the process, I made two wonderful friends in Jim and Joan, Jim’s wife.

Thank you, Sue. All of us who have consulted Jim have had the kind of experience Sue just described. To me, Jim is the embodiment of the best qualities of a physician as they were represented on TV and in the movies back when we were growing up in the 1950s and 1960s: someone who is very smart, someone who is very experienced, someone who is calmly reassuring — quietly confident; someone who you know will do everything that is required to make sure that things turn out well.

Jim is the guy you want in your corner. He is the guy you want on your team, whether it is your softball team, your scholarship team, or your medical team. In a difficult moment, he is the person you want by your side any day and every day, any week and every week, any season and every season.

And so, Jim, we have an engraving for you. It reads as follows:

JIM LUSTIG

“A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS”

FROM THE MATHER CLASS OF 1964/65 AND THE ZEOLITES

MAY 4, 2012

But there’s more, as they say on TV. Last year some of you will recall that I gave you a short German history lesson, or at least, a history of the Zeolites in German class at Mather High School. Jim was there in German class, along with most of the Zeolites, and people like Bob Ferencz and Michael Kaplan. As I said last year, after four years of German study we’d learned, perhaps, only 10 words; and seven of those words were swear words! But happily, one of those words has to do with Jim! No, not one of the swear words.

The word is “lustig,” which means cheerful or jolly. Now, my guess is, that it is not every day, Jim, when someone comes up to you, slaps you on the back, and says, “You know, Jim, you are a ‘jolly good fellow.'” But, today isn’t every day and we are about to do just that. So, all of you, please join me in paying tribute to our good friend Jim, by singing, “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”

The top photo is Jim Lustig. In the second photo, left to right, are Barbara Orloff Litt, Pat McAvoy, Sue Leff Ginsburg, Jan Kozin Gordon, and Joan Lustig (Jim’s wife). These pictures were taken at the Mather High School Class of 1964/65 “Mini-Reunion” Dinner at Sabatino’s Restaurant on May 4, 2012. They come to the Zeolite Scholarship Fund courtesy of Michael Kaplan.

*Jim is the Program Director, Asthma/Allergy of the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. He is also Professor of Pediatrics (Allergy/Immunology), Medical College of Wisconsin and Member, Children’s Specialty Group.

Anniversaries

Anniversaries are important. We draw attention to the accomplishments, feelings, relationships, and memories that mark the times of our life. And, as it happens, there is an important anniversary coming up, at least for me and a small group of old friends called “The Zeolites.”

We are 10 friends who were students at Chicago’s Mather High School. Now, I suppose, we can best be described as an accidental philanthropic organization. Back in the day, 1963 to be exact, we did two things that would prove to have a much bigger impact on our lives than any of us could have expected: we entered a team in the summer softball league at Mather Park and we promised to meet on the front steps of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry in 37 years time, the first day of a new century: January 1, 2000, at noon.

When the day itself arrived, eight of the 10 old friends kept that promise, coming from as far away as Seattle, Connecticut, Detroit, and California. A few days later I spoke with Bob Greene, then a writer for the Chicago Tribune, who wrote a column called “The Story Behind the Men on the Museum Steps” on January 10, 2000.

At the time, Greene’s column was widely read in Chicago, and his readership included people at the Northbrook, IL based Culligan Corporation, the people whose advertisements featured the slogan “Hey Culligan Man.” In 1963 we’d actually attempted to get the people at Culligan to sponsor our softball team and buy us t-shirts that said “Culligan Men” since we thought that would be a clever name for our group. Culligan had refused our request in 1963, but upon reading Greene’s column, decided to make it up to us. Not only did they offer to give us the t-shirts we’d asked for 37 years before, they provided us with a $2000 grant which we used as seed money to fund a scholarship at our old high school when it was matched by $250 from each of the eight reunited Zeolites.

Over the past 10 years we have been joined in this philanthropic effort by well over 100 of our former classmates from Mather’s Class of 1964/65 and have given scholarships that total over $100,000.

And so, on May 1, 2009 we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Zeolite Scholarship Fund, the 10th time we’ve gone to Mather to give money away to some talented and needy young people. Moreover, it will be the very first time that all eight of the founding members of the scholarship fund will be present at the same ceremony. The occasion has become the focal point for an annual “mini-reunion” of our high school class; and it is enormously satisfying and great fun to reconnect to the people with whom we grew up. To learn more about us, you can view our web site at: http://www.zeolitescholarshipfund.com/

As I said earlier, we didn’t plan anything like this back in 1963. We were just 10 friends who enjoyed each other’s company and thought that a reunion in the distant future sounded like fun. But, I guess it shows that if you are lucky and pull together with your friends, you can make at least a small difference in the world.

Try it and see.