Dennis Marek: When money should not rule

December 2, 2018

It seems everything is measured in the amount of wealth one has. In the latest gubernatorial race in Illinois, how many times did we hear Bruce Rauner had $500 million at his command, and J.B. Pritzker was worth three times that? (And it would appear Rauner still couldn’t afford a tie at times.)

The ads were without end, costing each candidate millions of dollars. An average person seeking such office could not ever compete. So, wealth is the answer. Sad.

But what bothers me more is the display of this obscene wealth in putting one’s name on schools, theaters and sporting areas. For example, Pritzker purportedly gave $100 million to Northwestern School of Law in exchange for altering the name to The Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

What did he have to do with the founding of this 168-year-old institution of learning? Now, when I receive a call from Northwestern asking for donations, I just refer them to Pritzker for more money. One caller laughed and told me I was not the only alum with that line. Really.

I have no problem when a wealthy donor gives money to a particular institution with a specific goal. If the hospital needs a new wing or department and virtually all of the money comes from one donor, I am OK calling that addition by the name of the donor. However, when a donor just gives money and wants to call an existing, already-named structure or institution after himself, I find that repulsive.

I had to laugh when Cellular One bought the naming rights to the White Sox’s field. It had been called Comiskey Park since its inception. Shortly thereafter, the new name got modified by the fans and the sports announcers to merely “The Cell.” Soon, the naming rights were changed to another, Guaranteed Rate Field. Charles Comiskey was the founding owner of the White Sox and a key player in the creation of Major League Baseball. Now that is a name that deserves continued honor of the man who started one of the first eight major league teams.

I understand it is all about money. But think of how the fans might react if Wrigley Field were to change to Oscar Meyer Hot Dog Field or Jim Moran Courtesy Stadium. That name is revered.

Can you imagine what the veterans of America might feel if the Bears stopped playing at Soldier Field but at the same place now called Amazon Field or Bezos Stadium? Some places are dedicated to other people or groups not for their money but for their heroic deeds or lifetime devotion.

I think it is great for the super-wealthy to help out in funding worthwhile ventures. Quietly and privately, Denzel Washington built extra housing on an Army Fort to temporarily house families staying close to soldiers hospitalized there with severe PTSD. He never said a word, didn’t ask that the housing be named after him, and only after some reporter broke the story did we learn of this generous act. My kind of man.

Locally, Norm Graham, a wonderful and caring businessman who helps the homeless, ran out of money. Taxes on his Court Street building were overdue, and it was to be sold at the tax sale. In walked a stranger with a paid receipt for all the taxes and merely handed it to Norm. No one knows his name, although the gracious act was reported in the Journal. Think about the person who goes to Walmart every year and gives the office $1,000 or more anonymously and says to pay the layaway fees for families. These families are the ones who cannot pay the purchase price and retrieve the toys they had set aside for their children. Again, my kind of people.

So often the person giving out the money is not the one who earned it, but an heir who needs tax write-offs. We have seen examples of that around our community, where monies are donated to rename places. One that totally irks me is when an auditorium has been built and originally named for an incredible teacher of English and drama in a local high school is renamed for a family of someone who never attended that school. I suppose the money was sufficient to convince the school administration and Board to rename it. If the Board did not know how this has bothered the local people, then they need to listen a bit more carefully.

I guess I just hope some of the original names are revered enough to withstand the bidding wars some can throw at cities, schools and even privately owned sporting organizations. I relish history, and without names, history slips away.

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