BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
The first stop in Chicago for Emmy-winning Global correspondent, MSNBC Anchor and author Ali Velshi is always what he calls his favorite museum in the world, the Chicago History Museum. And on March 12 Velshi will be sharing this favorite destination with a roomful of Guild Gala guests anticipating his insights into the 2020 presidential elections and how to decipher the 24-hour news cycle.
When we caught up with Velshi, he compared his work as a journalist with the work of a museum—interpreting for people what they are seeing: “At first I was not a ‘museum guy’—I didn’t feel smart enough. But I am passionate about telling stories and fell in love with the History Museum because of the way it tells stories, whether it’s the Chicago fire, Lincoln, or the great car in the lobby. After I first visited the Museum I contacted the President Gary Johnson and asked what I could do,” Velshi shares.
He continues, “My job is to tell people the right stuff about what is going on in the world and create an access point because we are all flooded with news, I feel that the Museum interprets Chicago in that way, and I applaud the recent exhibits ‘Out in Chicago’ and ‘American Medina’ on Muslim Chicagoans.”
For the past three decades, Velshi has considered himself a tremendous fan of the Windy City, always looking for any excuse to visit. He sees in it many similarities to Toronto, where he grew up: the lakefront, the geography, and its waves of immigration.
Although he has the parameters for his talk, Velshi, now a CHM board member, will wait until the results of Super Tuesday to put together his final remarks: “I speak on larger issues such as inequality and disenfranchisement and where we are now, and my concern for the current splintering of our society. For me, I like asking questions of viewers and people I meet such as at the Guild—I want their insight into what they think is going on.”
An award-winning journalist, author, MSNBC anchor, and business correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC, Velshi has covered domestic, global, and economic issues, including the spread and defeat of ISIS, the refugee crisis, the Iran nuclear deal, and the global financial crisis for both networks.
The author of Gimme My Money Back: Your Guide to Beating the Financial Crisis and How to Speak Money: The Language and Knowledge You Need Now, co-authored by long-time friend and co-anchor Christine Romans, Velshi is currently at work on a new book, studying whether capitalism is, in fact, broken, and what needs to be done to fix it. “If your sink is leaking, you would call a plumber, not get rid of all your plumbing. You are not against plumbing—you just want it fixed,” he explains. “I am hoping to write from a higher level, not talking about what isn’t working but individual chapters on best practices in areas like healthcare, climate change, and gender issues. All this yelling now is so pointless—let’s discuss.”
Next month’s CHM will provide that very opportunity: a chance to hear the anchor and author tackle the current state of affairs. Those purchasing patron tickets may receive, on a first come first serve basis, a tour of the NBC studios with Velshi.
Known for offering great events such as An Evening of Intrigue, with CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, the Guild of the Chicago History Museum has nearly 300 members. Linda Celesia and Karen Zupko are this year’s gala chairs.
The Guild supports the museum’s goals through education, service, and fundraising. At 72 years old, it is the museum’s oldest support organization and has done a masterful job in sharing Chicago’s stories since Mrs. Joseph M. Cudahy, Jr. convened a meeting of civic leaders in her home in 1948. Current President Kate Arias follows in the footsteps of legendary Chicago leaders such as Florence Lowden Miller, Clare Dedmon, Louise Smith, Barbara Potter, Lucia Uihlein, Nin Florian, and in recent years, Sally Sprowl, Jean Haider, Erica Meyer, Joan Werhane, Peggy Snorf, and Libbet Richter.
We talked this week with Nancy Robinson, a past president not only about her term of office (2004-2006) but also about when she first fell in love with the Chicago History Museum, then the Chicago Historical Society. Her enthusiasm about this life long love came forth in each word she said: “I attended North Shore Country Day School where I think we spent the whole year studying Abraham Lincoln. One of the mothers, Elaine Madlener, made sure we had many trips to the Historical Society to see its amazing Lincoln collection as well as to Springfield where we met Adlai Stevenson, who was Governor at the time and gave us little pins. It was years later that I learned she was also a president of the Guild.”
“The Guild has always been focused on the changing history of Chicago, promoting it, and learning more about its neighborhoods,” she continues. “My first year as President was an amazing time for the Guild and for the museum as well. The museum itself was closed except for the offices and board room on the 3rd floor. We had to plan all activities as a way a great opportunity to learn more about our city.”
At the end of her second year of her term as president, Gary Johnson became a part of the Historical Society and his vision transformed it into the History Museum. A history major and Rhodes Scholar, Johnson was also a lawyer and businessman with many contacts in the city. Robinson shares that she felt lucky to be his primer to the Guild. She recalls, “The museum opened again and the Guild hosted a gala in the new Chicago Room, with Judy Konen and Erica Meyer as chairs, all of us dancing to the music of Stanley Paul.” Potter Palmer and Erica Meyer contributed to Stanley Paul’s entertainment writing a “musical history” of the city as well as a group of original songs with lyrics about the city.
Another very important happening Robinson shared was the funding of the catalogue for the Chicago: Crossroads of America exhibition, which she described as a huge undertaking for the Guild. “We launched a very successful campaign with the help of every board member. Libbet Richter, with her public relations skills, was extremely helpful. I invited John Rowe, who had just taken over as head of the Board of Trustees, to our Annual Meeting at The Casino. He said he would stop by on his way to a business meeting but couldn’t stay more than a few minutes. He was surprised and delighted to see that we had well over 100 enthusiastic members in attendance and asked if he could say a few words to help welcome them.”
Lynn Orschel, a longtime Guild member and one of the wisest women in town, told us: “I have long felt that the membership involves many outstanding women who are interested in the fascinating city and history that is Chicago. Also, we are committed to supporting the countless groups of Chicago youngsters who learn so much from our varied and wonderful collections. It warms my heart to see these young people hurrying off their school buses and rushing to learn about our illustrious history. Many of these youngsters have never been to such an institution and that gives me great pleasure that we can facilitate this in a small way.”
The programs, special events, and fundraising benefits are, indeed, very special. They all revolve around our city and generate much-needed funds for both the museum and its Guild.
Lastly, we must not overlook our volunteer activities. Many members serve as docents. One of our projects has been serving as judges for the Chicago History Fair: we judge and review history and scientific exhibits all over the city. This culminates in the Spark event where the winners are proudly showcased.
For further information about the March 12 Guild Gala, contact Odette Barrientos at Barrientos@chicagohistory.org or 312-799-2112.