Editor’s Note: DuPage Foundation is teaming up with the Daily Herald to bring you a new series celebrating the powerful role philanthropy plays in our community. “Leaders & Legacies: Stories of Local Impact” will be a recurring column highlighting the inspiring stories of local individuals, families and businesses who have had or are having a lasting impact through their generosity and leadership.
The series begins with the late philanthropist Brooks McCormick.
Of the many gifts that can be attributed to Brooks McCormick, his ability to bring people together for the good of all is what people remember him the most.
He was a visionary with the means to get things done. His life embodied the saying: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and engaged citizens can change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that has ever been.”
Brooks was the great-grandnephew of Cyrus McCormick, the inventor of the McCormick Reaper, a revolutionary agricultural tool that began a trend of using automation to improve agricultural productivity. This original company evolved into the world renowned International Harvester, known today as Navistar International.
Brooks was the last member of his family to work for International Harvester, serving 40 years in a wide range of positions, including responsibilities that gave his family the opportunity to live in England. During his stay, Brooks probably acquired his formal manner and impeccable taste in clothing.
Brooks McCormick (1917-2006)
After Brooks’ career with International Harvester, philanthropy became his focus and the family business.
His wife, Hope Baldwin McCormick, was also engaged in philanthropy and was actively involved in politics after serving in the Illinois House of Representatives.
McCormick’s youngest grandson, Conor McCormick O’Neil, said his grandparents instilled in family members an understanding that “to whom you give a lot, you expect a lot”.
Conor and his loved ones along with trusted advisors now meet several times a year to oversee the family’s charitable foundation distributions to causes that support their love of nature, animal welfare, cultural amenities and humanitarian needs.
It is a natural continuation of the McCormick family’s determination to be of service to others. DuPage County has been a happy beneficiary of this generosity.
Through the efforts of Brooks McCormick, his family home and the nearly 600 acres of surrounding property in Warrenville became part of the Forest Preserve district of DuPage County after his death in 2006.
Many pieces commissioned by the McCormick family remain in the St. James Farm Forest Reserve, including the life-size bronze sculpture of Chamossaire, the champion of the St. Leger Stakes in 1945.
– Courtesy of the DuPage Foundation
The estate was owned by Brooks’ parents, who called the property St. James Farm, a name inspired by the address of their residence on Rue St Jacques in Paris.
During Brooks’ lifetime, many equestrian events took place at St. James Farm, which he had transformed into a mecca for horse lovers.
A stable of 62 stalls for competitors’ horses was built on the property, along with an indoor arena, dressage and show jumping arena, and a 1.5 mile steeplechase track. Equestrian events hosted by the family drew more than 10,000 spectators each year and included an annual steeplechase to benefit Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton.
Another example of the family’s charitable activities was the establishment of the St. James Riding School for the Handicapped, which touched the lives of thousands of children. The love of art was also evident among visitors to St. James Farm. Several sculptures commissioned by the McCormick family remain on the site. His personal residence was razed according to Brooks’ wishes.
Brooks McCormick’s love for nature was also the catalyst for the founding of the Conservation Foundation in 1972.
Originally known as the Forest Foundation, the Conservation Foundation is a non-profit organization focused on improving the health of our communities by preserving and restoring open spaces and natural lands, protecting rivers and basins. watersheds and promoting environmental stewardship in northeastern Illinois.
The Conservation Foundation is based at McDonald Farm in Naperville. The 49-acre site, donated by Lenore McDonald in 1992 and now surrounded by subdivisions, is also a working organic vegetable farm.
– Courtesy of the Conservation Foundation
Brooks, along with other conservationists, was responsible for preserving over 35,000 acres of open space throughout this region.
His commitment to preservation led D. “Dewey” Pierotti Jr., former president of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, to name Brooks as “the Teddy Roosevelt of DuPage County”.
Conor McCormick O’Neil recalls his grandfather’s love for nature and wildlife and that he couldn’t stand seeing animals mistreated.
A deep concern for the well-being of others was a recurring theme throughout Brooks’ life.
Having served as chairman of the executive committee of the Chicago Community Trust, he felt that DuPage County needed a similar permanent charity focused on improving the quality of life for area residents.
It was this belief that inspired him to co-found the DuPage Community Foundation (now DuPage Foundation) with former DuPage County Board member Mary Eleanor Wall.
Although Brooks and Mary Eleanor favored different political parties, they came together through their mutual love for DuPage County.
They were joined by Jerry Bradshaw, a prominent Wheaton banker, and the three visionaries encouraged a group of like-minded individuals to partner with them to bring the DuPage Foundation to fruition.
Last summer, a group of Conservation Foundation board members joined in a socially remote hike around Dayton Bluffs, a 253-acre natural area along the Fox River. The reserve was created in 2013 through a partnership with the foundation and the City of Ottawa.
– Courtesy of the Conservation Foundation
Since its inception in 1986, the DuPage Foundation has grown to become one of the 25 largest charitable foundations in the Chicago area and has awarded more than $ 55 million on behalf of its constituents to nonprofit organizations in the County of DuPage and beyond.
Conor McCormick O’Neil remembers his grandfather avoiding the spotlight and paying homage to those who came before him.
But it is fitting that we recognize the remarkable legacy of Brooks McCormick. The lasting impact of his philanthropy and the continued generosity of his family extends far beyond DuPage County and includes significant support to the Art Institute of Chicago, Northwestern University, Rush University Medical Center and the University of Chicago, among other organizations.
• The Leaders & Legacies series is brought to you by the Legacy Society of DuPage Foundation. Suggestions for future stories can be sent to Alice Wood, Director of Gift Planning, at [email protected] Interested in learning more about how you can make an impact or create a legacy for your community and your favorite causes? Visit www.dupagefoundation.org or call (630) 665-5556.