Women’s shelter fundraiser sweeter success in ‘10

By Becky Yerak
Posted Dec. 27, 2010 at 9:28 a.m.

On one Sunday in December for the last seven years, about 300 children have gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Chicago to decorate  gingerbread houses.

It’s part of an annual holiday brunch to benefit  Women in Need Growing Stronger, a nonprofit group that’s chaired by Rita Canning.

Despite an economy that continues to be shaky, WINGS’ 2010 Sweet Home Chicago event raised a record $456,250, up from $340,000 last year and surpassing a record of $441,000.

Canning, the wife of Madison Dearborn Partners LLC Chairman John Canning, got involved with WINGS in 1992. It was founded 25 years ago to help victims of domestic violence.

Palatine-based WINGS  serves the northwest suburbs, providing emergency shelter and transitional housing for up to two years. Its annual $3.5 million budget is almost entirely privately funded. A long-term goal is to open a facility in a Chicago neighborhood, Rita Canning said.

In 2004, the mother of six and grandmother of six  started what has become the annual Sweet Home Chicago event downtown; it’s the key fundraiser for the group in the city, she said.

This year Sweet Home Chicago’s  honorary chairman was retired Commonwealth Edison Co. Chief Executive Jim O’Connor, along with his wife Ellen.

Their daughter, Elizabeth O’Connor Cole, raised $350,000 for the group’s inaugural event in 2004.  O’Connor Cole, a mother of four who until 2006 worked in investor relations for Tribune Co., is married to Michael Cole, a  Madison Dearborn managing partner.

Jim and Ellen O’Connor also have a son,  Fred, who works for Morningstar, and another son, James, who works for MVC Capital, which is headed by Michael Tokarz. In 2008 Tokarz was named as a potential bidder of the Chicago Cubs.

Four families were lead sponsors of the 2010 Sweet Home Chicago, each kicking in $25,000. Besides John and Rita Canning,  the families were  Bob and Emmy King, Dick and Peggy Notebaert, and J.B. and M.K. Pritzker.

Financial services firms that were sponsors included Aon Corp. (in the $25,000 to $20,000 category), Harris Bank ($10,000 to $8,000), and Edgewater Funds, JPMorgan Chase and Northern Trust (each $5,000).


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