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Featured Philanthropist: Virginia Seggerman

Board member Virginia Seggerman has a passion for the perfect yet unexpected gift. In addition to funding major artworks at ChicagoCAC, she also has donated furniture throughout the building and coordinates monthly Milk and Cookies for staff. Since she’s played such a pivotal role in shaping the look and feel of the center, we talked to her about what inspires her unique contributions, like our aquarium mural by Mark Narens. 

How did you get involved with ChicagoCAC?

Back in 2004 when I was working at Sam Zell’s company, Equity Office, we had adopted the center as our corporate philanthropic mission. Another individual that used to work with me at Equity Office was on ChicagoCAC’s board. I had switched jobs and we lost touch, but one evening I came out of the office late and ran into him. He mentioned he was leaving the board, and he said, “I’d like to put you in contact with Char, the executive director, because I think you’d really enjoy it.” I came out for a tour and met with Char and I ended up joining the board in March of 2016. It genuinely is a wonderful organization. I’ve spent some time on the development committee and as Board Treasurer, and I love supporting the fund-raising events too. 

Why is our mission important to you? 

I think about how fortunate I was, growing up in the neighborhood that I did, with these wonderfully kind parents, and wonderful teachers and friends. My husband and I don’t have any children, but I love the idea of helping kids get off to a good and healthy start in life. I remember reading that the average victim is a nine-year-old girl. I cannot imagine something that troubling happening to a child at that age. So I’m very supportive of initiatives to help these kids get into a safe environment again, get the mental health help that they need to get on the right track and recover from trauma.  And because it’s a difficult cause, I just worry that something like this doesn’t get the attention it deserves. A question that I am sometimes asked is why not help youth centers or after school programs, particularly since we don’t get to interact with kids here. But my answer is that this is a uniquely tough mission. It’s hard to find people to support it in a meaningful way, and that just resonates more with me because it’s harder to do. 

So what was the inspiration for the Under the Sea Mural? 

The center used to have small donor plaques on the wall in that area. Char was actually the one that brought up the idea of doing a painting with an aquarium theme given the tall ceiling and uniquely round space. She knew the artist, Mark Narens, and he came out and we talked about transforming the space into a very colorful and cheerful aquatic-themed mural. Mark was fabulous, and I absolutely loved watching him and his team place the finishing touches on the mural making the sea creatures almost come to life. I loved it so much when it was done.

When I would come in for meetings I’d say hi to Patricia at the front desk and I would ask her “so how’s our mural doing?”  She always has a little anecdote: “Oh, you know this dad was there with his little girl and they were looking at the painting.” That just absolutely melts my heart. They can touch the wall, they can look at it, the bright orange and the blues and the greens, the unique roundness of it, it gets lighter like the sky as you go up… I knew it would put kids’ minds at ease as much as possible. You just walk in there and it’s just such a happy space. It so surpassed my wildest dreams. 

What keeps you coming back to support us? 

I mentioned how fortunate I was to have wonderful parents. I definitely took after my father: math was my favorite subject and my father was an engineer, my mother was a nurse. My father came down at the age of 37 with a very rare neurologic disease, similar to ALS. I was only seven years old, and he became totally paralyzed, and my mother stayed with him and took care of him around the clock. He died very young, and she ended up with some health issues, in part from the stress from caring for him. But talk about two people that gave everything they had to pay it forward and help others. They treated everyone with amazing kindness.

I try to be open to new ideas, unique projects that can help make a difference. I really enjoy doing things that can help in a creative way. Years ago, when I was working at CDW, one of our board members was talking about connecting the dots, and it stuck with me. It’s a simple concept, but it’s surprising to me how often those dots don’t get connected. I love connecting the dots and saying, well, maybe we could actually make this happen. 

A few years ago, Char and I were talking and she brought up the family waiting rooms, and if I were interested, perhaps I could fund the painting of murals in each of the six family rooms. One of my favorite memories is being in fourth grade with my best friend — we lived across the street from each other in a little town in Indiana, and we’re still best friends all these years later. Our teacher would read every day out of the book The Secret Garden. My parents both loved to garden, and I thought about the colors of a garden and the story of the little girl. When we met to discuss a theme for the family room walls, I said, ‘Why don’t we just take inspiration from the book The Secret Garden and each one could be a garden?’.

When I visited the family rooms at the center, they were so austere. There was a grayish color to them, and they were a little isolating-looking, like a doctor’s office, and so I thought putting garden-themed murals in each one of the rooms would be wonderful. I loved sending over pictures of gardens, and I asked Mark to paint Mac (the center’s facility dog) in one of the murals —I just love dogs, and I love Mac. 

Mark did a wonderful job, and there’s just something about gardens and landscapes and the aquarium that calms the mind down a level. With the mural there, when you sit down, it makes such a difference. It’s so much warmer. It just feels safer, and that’s what I had hoped for.

Thank you for everything you do for ChicagoCAC. Any closing thoughts?

My husband and I were very lucky in our business lives, working for Sara Lee Corporation, Sam Zell and CDW. Both of us are retired now, and I retired earlier than I thought I would, so I feel like I’ve been blessed with the desire to pay it forward. I do a lot in my parents’ name, I feel like I have a mission to repay the kindness I was shown, with the parents I had. It’s so sad that my father didn’t live longer, but I just know they would both want me to be doing what I do. 

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