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The Wendy City

If you don’t know her already, you will soon. Wendy Abrams eco-advocate, political insider, philanthropist, mother of four unveils Chicago’s new public sculpture project this summer. And it’s no cows on parade.

Queen of the Worlds: Wendy Abrams, spearhead of this summer’s Cool Globes project, in the Chicago warehouse where the globes were decorated and stored   Photo: Thomas Chadwick;

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Global Ambitions: Artists prep their globes.

Abrams is rich-the kind of rich that prompts Cool Globes volunteers to ask one another in awed tones, “Have you seen her house?” But driving around in her Prius, and carrying a Medline-giveaway canvas laptop case and a large purse printed with a color photo of her children, Abrams is a picture of understatement.

A close friend, Susie Borovsky, of Deerfield, met Abrams while studying abroad in London but later learned they were both alumnae of Camp Agawak in Wisconsin. She says Abrams (who has degrees from Brown University and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management) has always had a knack for keeping things low key and making sure her wealth did not become a focus. “She’s not a bragger or a showoff,” Borovsky says. “She comes from a very successful family business, but you would never know that.”

Still, with Abrams’s money, it’s hard to stay consistently low key. In addition to that Prius, the Abrams family own several other vehicles, including a large SUV, kept at their Montana vacation home; Abrams says she is eager to replace it with a hybrid model. Two years ago, her husband threw her a lavish 40th birthday party at the Park West, featuring a performance by Bruce Hornsby. And her family’s recent purchase of the mansion on the grounds of the Highland Park estate formerly owned by the disgraced insurance mogul Michael Segal places Abrams squarely in the middle of a community debate about how the estate’s grounds will be redeveloped.

As much as she hates to talk about it, Abrams’s wealth shapes both her personal life and her emerging public persona. “This is not about what some rich person is doing,” she says. “That makes it sound like no one else can make a difference. And that’s totally not it.”

She adds, “Yes, I’m writing checks, but the checks that I’m writing are not in the stratosphere.” She gave $25,000 to the Democratic National Committee during the 2004 election season and continues to donate to candidates on a national level, particularly to Senator Obama. “I’d like to think I’m contributing in a lot of other ways as well.”

Professor Oppenheimer says the experience of lobbying with Abrams bears that out. “You meet a lot of people who are influential or wealthy and can put you in the right setting,” he says, “and that’s always nice. But she’s bothered to learn about the issue. I’ve seen people who had contact and influence, and waste them. In my experience, [Abrams] has a broader reach and has put that reach to better use than anyone else I know.”

Cathy Stein, the volunteer handling logistics for Cool Globes, says: “In most philanthropic endeavors that I’ve been involved with, you’re always begging people for things. But with Wendy, she has people calling up and begging to do things, asking, ‘What else can I do?’”

Project volunteers have a name for this seemingly magical effect: They call it “being Wendyized.”


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