The Retirement Research Foundation: 25 years of Steadfast Commitment to CJE

by Carole Klein-Alexander

The legendary philanthropist John D. MacArthur, who died in 1978 at 80 years old, is probably remembered best as a hard-driving, self-made, extremely frugal entrepreneur who became one of the nation’s wealthiest men in post-World War II America. After his death, the $1 billion in assets from the centerpiece of his business empire—Bankers Life and Casualty Company—became the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which has provided over $5 billion in grants to over 60 countries for programs that build a more “just, verdant and peaceful world.” 

What many people don’t know is that John D. MacArthur’s fortune from another business venture—Citizens Bank and Trust Company of Park Ridge—also established The Retirement Research Foundation in Chicago. Endowed in 1950, this private foundation has awarded grants of more than $200 million since Mr. MacArthur’s death in 1978. It is the nation’s first private foundation devoted exclusively to aging and retirement issues. The Retirement Research Foundation is not affiliated with the larger MacArthur Foundation and its mission— to improve the quality of life for our nation’s elders—is quite different.

Thankfully, CJE SeniorLife’s mission and that of The Retirement Research Foundation converge on many levels. Since 1986, the Foundation has awarded 18 grants to CJE for a total commitment of nearly $1.6 million.

When speaking with the Foundation’s Executive Director, Irene Frye, and her colleague Naomi Stanhaus, who has served as a program consultant to the Foundation for more than 25 years, it is very clear they value CJE’s innovative approach to developing—and successfully implementing—programs that fulfill the Foundation’s mission. They cited numerous examples of how CJE has led the way in creating solutions to help older adults live with dignity in the community. They noted one of the first CJE programs, Living at Home, that the Foundation supported with a three-year grant starting in 1986. This program organized formal and informal caregiving at the neighborhood level, with some of the systems that were established continuing today for the delivery of community-based services. In fact, there are several CJE programs that are still in existence that were either launched or enhanced by a grant from The Retirement Research Foundation. One of the most notable is the highly recognized Managed Community Care Program, a demonstration project designed in 1995 to help adults remain in their own homes longer—to avoid being moved prematurely to a long-term skilled nursing facility—with CJE staff providing vital in-home servicessuch as personal care.

What Frye and Stanhaus confirmed with conviction is that CJE is willing to change with the times and is always seeking new ways to help people in need. This makes CJE the perfect partner, since the Foundation is committed to programming that empowers elders who are not able to advocate for themselves or who are vulnerable due to advanced age, economic disadvantage, or disparity related to race and ethnicity. Frye and Stanhaus are particularly concerned that the Affordable Care Act and the resulting changes in the delivery of health care services will be confusing and disruptive to seniors. They emphasize the importance of community education in determining how well the new health care system will work, especially for low-income seniors who are dually eligible for Medicaid and Medicare benefits.

According to The Retirement Research Foundation, CJE is recognized for creativity and integrity. The Foundation staff respects that CJE is not afraid of evaluating its programs and providing outcomes that are mostly positive, but occasionally,  not quite what was expected. The Foundation greatly appreciates CJE’s commitment to transparency on what is working ... or what isn’t.

In addition to their commitment to being dedicated stewards of the Foundation’s mission, Frye and Stanhaus also possess a personal passion to help make the world a better place for older adults. Frye’s commitment is evident when she says, “I cared for my parents as they became more frail. Rather than look at this as a time of loss, I really chose to focus on the wisdom and joy that we can receive from our elders.”

Stanhaus is equally dedicated to ensuring that both the public and private sectors ensure adequate resources for helping our elders age with dignity, at a time when the older population is increasing. Stanhaus points out, “Unfortunately, under 2% of foundation giving is directed toward aging issues. We need to enhance our advocacy efforts, attract more young people into the aging field and strengthen our message about a growing number of critical concerns.”

CJE is grateful that such a well-respected foundation is steadfast in its support of CJE’s mission. The progressive partnership that CJE has shared for over 25 years with the entire staff and lay leaders of The Retirement Research Foundation is a very important part of our history and hopefully, the keystone of our vision to enhance the lives of older adults in our community.


Irene Frye was appointed Executive Director of The Retirement Research Foundation in December 2008. Each year the Foundation provides support for programs, research, advocacy and training to improve the quality of life for older Americans. Frye’s previous experience also includes positions in fundraising and program management in a national association, health care organizations and human services agencies. She has served on the boards of a community mental health agency and a community health clinic.


Highlights of The Retirement Research Foundation’s Commitment to CJE

Two-year grant to establish a mechanism for exchanging training and education resources among Chicago area providers–the precursor to a network of providers that continues to meet.

1986 and 1989
Three-year grant, followed by 18 more months for a Living at Home Program which organized formal and informal caregiving at the neighborhood level. Systems were established that continue today for delivery of community-based services.

ENCORE Award (RRF’s Community Awards Program) for CJE’s exemplary Crime Victim/ Witness Assistance Program.

One-year grant to enable CJE to redesign, print, and distribute 4,000 copies of a workbook to assist family caregivers of frail elderly relatives.

Four-year grant to enable CJE to conduct an outcome study of the Managed Community Care Demonstration Project. CJE studied the risks and benefits of the state-funded capitated prospective payment model of long-term care service delivery for the elderly. The program was shown to result in more efficient and responsive care plans and lower out-of-pocket client expenditures.

Three-year grant for Partners in Care, which involved placing geriatric social workers in primary health care centers to assist physicians in identifying non-medical supportive services that older patients need to maintain health.

One-year grant to enable CJE to launch HEROS (Helping Elders through Referral and Outreach Services) a replication of the Gatekeeper program, a mental health outreach model. It involved non-traditional referring agents such as postal workers, bank personnel, and property managers, who helped identify and refer at-risk older adults for services.

Three-year grant to enable CJE’s Leonard Schanfield Research Institute to develop and refine a self-neglect assessment instrument.

Three-year grant for LaBriut (“To Your Health”) to promote optimal health and well-being among Orthodox Jewish elderly on Chicago’s northside.