CHICAGO — After serving as Chair of the Polk Bros. Foundation Board of Directors for thirty-four years since the Foundation’s establishment, Sandra Guthman will make a planned transition into the role of Chair Emeritus at the Board’s annual meeting in November. Nancy Lewis, the granddaughter of Goldie Bachmann Luftig, will become the new Chair, after five years in one of the three Board seats designated for descendants of the original Polk siblings.
“This transition in our Board’s leadership is a significant moment in the Foundation’s history. It has been a distinct honor to work so closely with Sandy over the years, and to join with her to push toward the Chicago everyone deserves. She has given so much of herself to the Foundation and, in the process, has done so much to improve the lives of people across Chicago,” said Polk Bros. Foundation CEO Gillian Darlow. “I am confident Nancy’s leadership will help us continue Sandy’s legacy and work for real change for our city.”
As the founding Chair of the Polk Bros. Foundation Board of Directors in 1988, Guthman balanced her full-time career at IBM with her work to introduce the Foundation to Chicago and to develop its funding guidelines. Soon after she took early retirement from IBM and became the Foundation’s CEO five years later, she increased the Foundation’s grantmaking to $10 million annually to support efforts that promised to have a tangible and immediate impact on the lives of people throughout Chicago.
During Guthman’s tenure as CEO, the Foundation led a number of notable initiatives, including an effort to support Chicago’s major cultural organizations to engage with Chicagoans — particularly students in Chicago Public Schools — outside their institutional walls and within communities across the city, as well as a pilot of the full-service community school model which grew to include more than 100 community schools by 2005 and more than 200 community schools across the city today. During the global financial crisis in 2008, Guthman ensured that the Foundation bolstered Chicago’s nonprofit sector by committing continued level support to grantees. Guthman retired as CEO in 2012, continuing as Chair of the Board and hiring Gillian Darlow as CEO. More recently, the Foundation responded to the pandemic in 2020 through rapid COVID-19 response and a $17 million Equitable Recovery grantmaking initiative.
During Guthman’s thirty-four years as Chair, the Foundation awarded nearly $600 million in grants to over 3,800 nonprofits.
“Polk Bros. Foundation has always valued social and racial justice, and recently we have been working to become clearer in our articulation of that,” said Guthman. “All of this has been a communal effort with what I believe is the best foundation staff in the city, who are mission-driven and intent on working and learning together, as well as a dedicated Board who works in tandem with staff to advance the Foundation’s mission.”
To honor Guthman and all she has done for Polk Bros. Foundation and for Chicago, the Foundation is making a $500,000 grant to establish the Sandra P. Guthman Artistic Leadership Fund within the ChiArts Legacy Fund at the ChiArts Foundation.
Guthman was a founding board member of the School Board of The Chicago High School for the Arts and continues to serve as a member of the ChiArts Foundation Board of Directors.
“Sandy’s leadership and vision were pivotal in the founding of ChiArts, and this investment in fostering diverse voices in the arts through leadership honors her efforts and her legacy,” said Darlow.
“We are humbled and honored to be part of Sandy’s heart and story,” said ChiArts Foundation Founding President José Ochoa. “I’m not sure I have the words to express how special it is for us to be included in this recognition of her legacy of philanthropic leadership. She has made such a huge imprint on me and on the school, on everyone that has worked here with her. It is so moving to be a part of Sandy’s story,” said Ochoa.
Lewis, who is on the Board’s investment committee and has served as Vice Chair since November 2020, is national sales manager of Mary Meyer Corporation.
“Serving on this Board has provided me with a unique line of sight into the work of hundreds of nonprofit organizations that are providing essential public services, tackling inequities, and creating communities where everyone has the opportunity to thrive,” said Lewis. “It is an honor to serve as Chair and to support my fellow Directors and the Foundation staff as the Foundation continues its important work and builds a more intentional racial equity lens across its work.”
Lewis will chair her first Polk Bros. Foundation Board of Directors meeting later this month.
“Nancy’s strategic and collaborative approach and her commitment to the Foundation’s mission have made her an invaluable member of the Board and will continue to serve the Foundation well in her service as Chair,” said Guthman.
Additionally, Mary Dempsey, president of DePaul College Prep high school and a Director on the Foundation’s Board, completed her service to the Board in August.
“Polk Bros. Foundation has always shown a deep commitment to Chicago and all the people who live here,” said Dempsey. “I am grateful for the time I’ve spent engaged in the Foundation’s work and with this thoughtful and incisive Board.”
Dempsey joined the Board in November 2016.
“On behalf of our full Board, I want to thank Mary for giving so much of her time, expertise and judgment over the years,” said Guthman. “We are stronger because of her many contributions.”
During a special October meeting, the Board also elected Peter Howard as its newest member. Howard is senior vice president and general counsel of CSA Group, the largest Hispanic-owned architectural and engineering services firm in the U.S., and is of counsel with Chico & Nunes, P.C., a minority-owned law firm.
“Peter is very conscious of and thinks very deeply about justice and injustice. His background aligns well with the Foundation’s focus, and he has observed very closely and understands the impact Polk is trying to make,” said Ardmore Roderick Chief Strategy Officer Cherryl T. Thomas, who serves as secretary of Polk Bros. Foundation’s Board of Directors and led the search.
As a student at Antioch College, Howard completed a series of practicums, including civil rights work in Mississippi; services and counseling for incarcerated individuals while living in a state prison in Tennessee; and support for a farm laborers organizing group in Indiana. During his professional career, he was an early participant in efforts to increase the representation of people of color and women in the private equity industry and has represented numerous women and BIPOC-owned businesses in financings, acquisitions and other corporate transactions.
“I was so impressed by the perspective he brings and the questions he asks,” said Lewis. “He will be a great asset to the Foundation and the Board.”
Howard holds a J.D. from Yale Law School and a B.A. from Antioch College.
“Polk Bros. Foundation has a clear and well-established commitment to strengthening Chicago by investing in efforts to address some of the most pressing challenges facing our City,” said Howard. “I am honored to join this work, and eager to return to my interests in social justice.”