BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Liza Yntema and husband Mark Ferguson were recently honored by Holy Trinity High School on West Division Street at the 24th Annual Guardians of Hope Dinner, an initiative to introduce inner-city students to colleges across the country. The gala in their honor raised over $1 million for scholarship programs.
Both lawyers and leaders in Chicago’s non-profit world, Liza and Mark represent an entrepreneurial spirit that it takes more than a “just business as usual approach” to bring positive change. By contributing time, wisdom, and financial support, they are one of Chicago’s most highly sought after change-agent couples.
We sat down recently with Liza, a native of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to hear more about Holy Trinity’s college initiative program and her commitment to volunteerism. Her hands-on talent has jumpstarted the Chicago Park District boxing program, commissioned research into the lack of women in higher positions in major American dance companies, and spearheaded the passage of legislation to address the education of homeless children (to name but a few of her initiatives).
“You have to take your involvement in social justice as seriously as you do how you manage your money. You really have to ask questions and also be creative. Choose your area of commitment, do lots of research, work really hard, and evaluate what you have done. It does require a certain amount of boldness.
“I am very grateful to the Junior League where I first volunteered when I moved to Chicago from the East Coast and focused on advocacy.
“We all have to be involved in helping to solve this city’s problems. We live in Winnetka and there’s no moat around our town.”
Liza and Mark, who met as students at the University of Michigan Law School, began the Holy Trinity’s college visit program, one of the first of its kind for the country.
“We started off very small and visited Midwest colleges only, getting legs underneath the program. Our students have now visited East Coast schools, and we are adding the South and Southwest to our list.
“Holy Trinity alums that have graduated college have now started a boot camp where they advise students who are just entering the program. We are so inspired by our students and want to continue to create a network of support.
“Funds enable parents to attend college graduation and for students to visit home if there is a problem. I have never seen an organization that spends its money as well. Everyone on the school staff wears about five hats!”
A competitive rower with the New Trier Women’s Masters and Alliance Rowing Club, Liza has developed a rowing program from girls at Holy Trinity and loves rowing with the students.
“When I turned 40, I decided I would try something new (and perhaps scary) every year. I took up rowing, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, tap danced, got my second-degree black belt, and went back to school. When I turn 60, I want to take five weeks off to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, with family and friends joining for three to five days along the pilgrimage route.”
Mark, a trial lawyer from Kalamazoo, makes organizations that focus on bettering the lives of children and youth part of his daily commitment. He serves on the Executive Committee of the Daniel Murphy Scholarship Fund, which offers high school scholarships to Chicago Public Schools students. He is the past president of the Governing Board of the Springboard Foundation, providers of funding and support for inner-city after-school and educational enrichment programs. A major supporter of the performing arts in Chicago, he is a member of the Lyric Opera board as well as Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, creators of enrichment programs for students across the city.
Friends from many organizations, including Dan Schmidt, CEO of WTTW; Gloria Groom, Chair of European Painting and Sculpture of the Art Institute; Barbara Gaines, Artistic Director of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater; and friends from the Junior League of Chicago were among those cheering on Liza and Mark at the awards night.
Liza currently serves on the boards of the Chicago Parks Foundation, WTTW, the Old Masters Society of the Art Institute, Youth Guidance, and the Joffrey Ballet, and the Women’s Board of the Field Museum. She has held leadership positions with Hubbard Street Dance, the Women’s Bar Association, and the Winnetka Board of Northwestern University Settlement House. In her professional life she has been a lawyer, legislative analyst, worked as a public relations, and served as a governmental affairs professional.
While on the board of the Parkways Foundation (now the Chicago Parks Foundation), she noticed that the programs offered failed to adequately target at-risk inner-city boys and young men. She and Mark have donated funds, matched by other sources, to overhaul the Park District boxing program, underwriting a complete refurbishment and upgrade of equipment, spearheading the hiring of a full-time boxing staff, and successfully re-opening seven previously closed boxing centers.
Mark and Liza are parents of three equally talented, and busy, children.
“Claire works in New York for C40 on global initiatives for safer air, health, and infrastructure. Our son, Edward, is preparing for law school and our daughter Lili balances her job at Accenture with running half-marathons. Organizations that say they need young members have to be accommodating to the fierce schedules young people must keep.”
And congratulations to Liza for the schedule she keeps! In between her community commitment and professional responsibilities, she finds time to teach yoga, tai chi, and indoor cycling. She loves treks, biking up mountains, and kayaking down rivers for fun.
We join with Holy Trinity School to honor the dedication and energy of Liza Yntema and Mark Ferguson and toast the success of the Guardians of Hope Dinner.
Photo credit: Kate June Photography