MANY PEOPLE people give money to charitable causes, but Ernest Wish is one of those rare individuals who also gives generously of his time.

Wish has provided long-term leadership for more than 10 nonprofit organizations, supplying key assistance in raising funds and steering organizations through the sometimes choppy waters of the nonprofit world. Described as highly energetic, focused, sharp, and persistent, Wish is the ideal volunteer–someone who not only donates a significant amount of his week but also has the skills and acumen that nonprofits crave.

Why does he do it? The answer is simple: “I have some experience and expertise in development,” said Wish, XP-29 (’71), “and somebody has to help those in need.”

In recognition of his commitment to volunteer work and his service as city clerk and director of revenue for the city of Chicago, Wish was named the 1999 Distinguished Public Service Alumnus.

Those who have worked with him wonder at his dedication, persistence, and efficiency. Charlie Ruder, president and CEO of the Chicago United Way when Wish was chairman of the board, said Wish helped the United Way during a difficult time, even though “we were just a part–a small part–of his activities,” Ruder said. “He is crisp and tough-minded, with a heart about as big as anybody I’ve ever seen. He’s an old softie. And he has tremendous staying power.”

For three years, Wish headed the Chicago United Way Crusade of Mercy, the development arm of the organization, while also serving as chief crusader, chairman of the northern division, and chairman of the major employers group. As chairman of the board he not only helped raise $90 million annually, he also worked closely with Ruder in developing an alliance between the Chicago United Way and the United Way of suburban Chicago.

“There were large challenges, it was very political, but Ernie did heavy negotiating work and found a way that was fair for everybody,” Ruder said.

Wish has also served as chairman of the board of trustees for DePaul University, and he has assisted in the fund-raising work of the GSB, Lincoln Park Zoo, and the University of Illinois. He is known as a
strategist and a problem solver, developing endowment strategies
and recruiting committee members.
“He is a rare individual who really cares about the institutions in the city,” said Bill Bennett, ’71, who was chairman of Lincoln Park Zoo when Wish served as chairman of the DePaul board of trustees and who is also a trustee of DePaul. “He helped the zoo at a critical time, when we took over operations from the Chicago Park District. He ran a very successful capital campaign.”

Wish received his B.S. from DePaul University, where he was also awarded an honorary J.D. He joined Coopers & Lybrand as an accountant in 1955, ultimately becoming a managing partner in 1975. He directed the Chicago office though dramatic changes in the accounting profession and was instrumental in developing cutting-edge services, both within the firm and for the profession. By the time he retired, Coopers & Lybrand had become the second largest accounting firm in the city.

After 17 years, Wish realized he wanted to turn his considerable expertise to a new challenge, so he and his wife decided that he would retire early, taking six months to relax before throwing himself back into volunteer work. That changed a month before his planned retirement when a friend called to say he had recommended Wish to head the Illinois Health Care Reform Task Force–and the appointment couldn’t wait. “I never did get that six months off,” Wish said, laughing. Wish was appointed by Governor Jim Edgar and spent his year as chair heading a 45-person committee that researched the health care system in Illinois and provided the state legislature with a set of recommendations to make the system more cost efficient and to enhance medical services.

This was not the end of his government service, however; soon after his position on the Health Care Task Force ended, Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed Wish to fill the position of city clerk, which was left vacant when his predecessor was indicted for corruption. Daley wanted someone with the skills to improve the department who was also “squeaky clean” after the embarrassment of the former city clerk, and Wish fit the bill.

Wish wasn’t a politician and didn’t want to campaign for election,
so he and Daley agreed that Wish would serve only the remaining two years of the term. In those two years, Wish was a tornado, improving staff morale, increasing office efficiency, and reducing annual paperwork from an amount “six times the height of the Sears Tower to a pile that was two-thirds the height of the Sears Tower,” Wish said.

Wish so impressed Daley that the mayor then appointed him director of the Revenue Department, which handles the collection of over $2.5 billion in license fees, taxes, and parking fines. There, too, Wish worked his magic, resulting in annual revenue improvements of $100 million for the department.

Wish is now chairman of the board of Wish Enterprises, a company started by his son David. Wish manages the apartment rental arm, which is called Wish Residential Management Company Inc. (WRM).

A self-described workaholic, Wish divides his time among WRM; his wife, Joan; his three children and six grandchildren; and his volunteer work.

He is particularly excited about two new endeavors. As chairman of the board of trustees for the newly created Jane Addams Hull House Foundation, Wish is recruiting other board members and shaping the foundation’s strategy for raising an endowment. The foundation is the development arm of the Jane Addams Hull House Association, which provides programs in 35 Chicago-area locations for children, adults, and seniors, including foster care, domestic violence advocacy, and home delivered meals.

Wish is also heading the new CPA Endowment Fund, which develops and supports programs to expose youth to the importance of finance in their everyday lives and encourages them to consider accounting as a career choice.

And, of course, Wish makes time to participate in the life of the
GSB. He began serving on the Council of the Graduate School of Business in 1979 and is now a life member. He also has served on
several committees, including the Centennial Celebration Task Force and the Committee on Corporate Relations.

Giving money to causes he cares about is important, but Wish says that for him, volunteering is more satisfying.

“People who care about others should try to give of their time, not just their money. It’s eminently more enjoyable. When you give time, there are a lot of other benefits, psychic benefits,” Wish said. “It’s exciting to plan for something and see it happen.”
–Jennifer Vanasco


Ernest Wish, XP-29 (’71) was named the 1999 Distinguished Public Service Alumnus.

Read more about the other DAA winners:

Philip J. Purcell III, ’67, Distinguished Corporate Alumnus

David Booth, ’71, and Rex Sinquefield, ’72, Distinguished Entrepreneurial Alumni
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