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Setting the Standard: Chicago Jewish club celebrates 150 years

Chicago’s Standard Club was formed on April 5, 1869

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(left) Julius Rosenwald, an early member of The Standard Club and one of JUF's founders. (right) The Standard Club’s first clubhouse, at Michigan Avenue and 13th Street, 1870-89. The parade is in honor of Civil War veterans.

"Sesquicentennial" is not a word that gets trotted out of the dictionary very often, but then an institution celebrating its 150th anniversary is a rare and fine thing. Like The Standard Club itself.

It was on April 5, 1869 when 69 leaders of the Chicago Jewish community founded the Club. Among them were architect Dankmar Adler; Philip Stein, future Illinois Appellate Court judge; and Henry Greenebaum, Chicago's first Jewish alderman and the first president of the United Hebrew Relief Association, the earliest iteration of what would become JUF.

Many of Chicago's academic and cultural institutions-including the Jewish United Fund-exist today as the result of the generosity of its members. Early member Julius Rosenwald, president and chairman of the board of Sears, Roebuck & Co., was one of the founders and leaders of JUF's predecessor institutions, as well as the Museum of Science and Industry; JUF's highest honor bears his name.

For its work, the Club has received many honors itself. Most recently, Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared April 5, 2019 "The Standard Club Day." The proclamation states that this honor is given "in recognition of the indelible contributions made by The Standard Club and its members for the betterment of Chicago" throughout its history.

A shared vision

Standard Club members Henry Merens, Alison Pure-Slovin, and Bart Lazar are co-chairing the anniversary celebration committee. "My involvement in The Standard Club and JUF feed closely related aspects of my identity as a Jew in Chicago. Through JUF, I am able to provide support for a wide network of worthy causes and I can trust JUF to make wise choices for those in need," Lazar said. "The Standard Club nourishes my mind, body, and spirit, playing basketball, sharing meals, and enjoying experiences and events with friends who are like family."

The Standard Club and JUF have been partners since their early days. Club founders had a vision to cultivate a membership who would share the type of values that are exemplified through the support of JUF's Annual Campaign. Every year, JUF holds a Standard Club event for Club members and their guests. This year's event, featuring journalist Nora O'Donnell, will be held on April 11.

"My grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles were members of the Club," said longtime JUF leader Skip Schrayer, "and my family celebrated many lifecycle events there. I attended my first JUF event at the Club, and I learned about being part of a strong, caring community, and about being a leader."

For its centennial, the Club commissioned a book about its history. An entire page lists nothing but the names of leaders of JUF, its predecessors, and its agencies. It states that, "Every President of the Jewish Federation and its predecessor organizations during the past 100 years (1869-1969) has been a Standard Club member. In addition, each year hundreds of Standard Club members have served as officers and board members of the Jewish Federation and its… family of social welfare agencies."

"Jimmy Sarnoff, my friend at the Club, introduced me to JUF through the Young Leadership Division, and it transformed my development and growth," said JUF Board Member Lindsey Paige Markus. "The values of The Standard Club and JUF go hand in hand, as members and donors are dedicated to tikun olam ." 

Doing well, doing good

From its birth in the late 1800s, Standard Club members were titans of business, including clothiers Hart, Schaffner & Marx, Jim Beam's Everett Kovler, Brunswick's Moses Bensinger, and Sara Lee's Nathan Cummings.

Others include Daniel J. Edelman, considered the father of modern public relations, and Joseph Regenstein, inventor of the window envelope.

Members of the government have been members as well, including Judge Richard Posner, and the late Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz. Illinois Governor Henry Horner was a member, as is his newly elected successor, J.B. Pritzker.

Through the years, the Club's members have been contributors-financially and as leaders-to many of Chicago's major civic institutions such as the Chicago Historical Society, the Adler Planetarium, the Michael Reese and Mount Sinai hospitals, and Spertus Institute.

While a Chicago institution, the Club has attracted national attention. They have received visits and correspondence from U.S. presidents from Franklin Delano Roosevelt up through Barack Obama. Israel's first president, Chaim Weizmann, also visited the Club in 1940.

Still raising the standard

Today, The Standard Club is attracting a new generation of leaders who value the relationships and inspiration the Club encourages. Today's members continue the tradition of business achievement married to communal involvement from Chicago Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf to philanthropists Tom and
Margot Pritzker.

While times have changed, The Standard Club's commitment to excellence and philanthropy have remained solid. Its mission statement says that, by the word "standard," the club meant "model, example, or criterion." And, 150 years later, The Standard Club is still that.

"Many of Chicago's academic and cultural institutions-- including the Jewish United Fund-- exist today as the result of the generosity of The Standard Club's members. "

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