A Quiet Man with a Big Heart

by Carole Klein-Alexander

For several years, CJE SeniorLife has received generous funding from the Bernard Heerey Family Foundation in support of two separate programs that enhance the lives of older adults. The Bernard Heerey Grant Assistance Program, initiated in 2006, helps new residents with limited financial resources enjoy life at CJE’s Weinberg Community for Senior Living. The Grant Assistance Program provides help to residents of both the Friend Center and Gidwitz Place. The Bernard Heerey Care Program, initiated in 2008, provides financial assistance to elderly community members who cannot afford vital services like care management, personal care or adult day care.

Mr. Heerey (pictured above) passed away in 1999 at the age of 79. But thanks to his thoughtful estate planning during his lifetime, hundreds of older adults today receive the benefits of CJE’s services. In addition to helping the  elderly, Mr. Heerey’s benevolence also extends to scholarships and fellowships for worthy students, with special emphasis on helping families with more than one child going to Section 501(c)(3) parochial schools.

So who was Bernard Heerey and why did he decide to give much of his substantial estate to charity? Unlike many high-profile, self- made millionaires, there’s not much written about Mr. Heerey. According to Nathaniel Grey, Trustee of the Bernard Heerey Family Foundation, Mr. Heerey—called “Bud” by his friends—was a quiet, unassuming man who had an innate knack for “buying and assembling land. He was known as a good man.”

Bernard Heerey, a devout Catholic, and Nathaniel Grey, an observant Jew, had a mutually-respectful relationship. Heerey’s daily routine often included driving around in a big Oldsmobile (never the flashiest or newest model) scouting properties, eating lunch  with cronies to “solve the world’s problems,” and then stopping by Grey’s firm to chat and make business decisions. For the most part, he never traveled far outside of his beloved Chicago and never bought fancy clothes. Basically, Heerey kept a low profile while doing what he loved to do.

Heerey’s desire to improve the landscape of Chicago was his real calling. Much of the gentrification of the near north side, around Clark, Dearborn, State and Rush streets, was due to his vision.

Bernard Heerey knew how to pick good land. With guidance during his lifetime, and with a clear understanding of his original intent since his death, his legacy continues through the Bernard Heerey Family Foundation which supports organizations that “do good work.” CJE SeniorLife is deeply appreciative of the Bernard Heerey Family Foundation and the man who truly understood the meaning of tikkun olam.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of LIFE, CJE SeniorLife's quarterly magazine.