Leaders & Legacies: James M. Wall and Mary Eleanor Wall, dedicated to faith, service and philanthropy

Dedicated to faith, service and philanthropy

  • Jim and Mary Eleanor Wall at DuPage Foundation's 30th anniversary celebration in 2016. The Walls supported the foundation since its inception in 1986, and named DuPage Foundation as a beneficiary of their estate.

    Jim and Mary Eleanor Wall at DuPage Foundation's 30th anniversary celebration in 2016. The Walls supported the foundation since its inception in 1986, and named DuPage Foundation as a beneficiary of their estate. Courtesy of DuPage Foundation

  • James M. Wall (1928-2021) and Mary Eleanor Wall (1930-2022)

    James M. Wall (1928-2021) and Mary Eleanor Wall (1930-2022)

  • James M. Wall (1928-2021) and Mary Eleanor Wall (1930-2022)

    James M. Wall (1928-2021) and Mary Eleanor Wall (1930-2022)

  • Mary Eleanor Wall

    Mary Eleanor Wall

  • DuPage Foundation's Leaders & Legacy series

    DuPage Foundation's Leaders & Legacy series

 
 
Posted5/19/2022 11:08 AM

Leaders & Legacies: Stories of Local Impact is an ongoing series brought to you in partnership by the Daily Herald and the Legacy Society of DuPage Foundation. It highlights the inspiring stories of local individuals, families and businesses that have made or are making a lasting impact for our community through their generosity and leadership.

The series continues with James M. Wall (1928-2021) and Mary Eleanor Wall (1930-2022).

 

If there were ever two people truly meant for each other, it was Jim and Mary Eleanor Wall.

A couple devoted to faith, family, politics and community, the Walls worked tirelessly to enact social change and brought people together through several philanthropic endeavors.

When Jim and Mary Eleanor met at Emory University in 1950, he was studying journalism and going to seminary school, and she was majoring in Christian education.

Between their shared Southern roots and Methodist upbringing, they found they had a lot in common.

Jim and Mary Eleanor grew up during the Great Depression era, at a time when segregation was prevalent in the South. They were exposed to a variety of social issues and experiences that would later fuel their desire to become community advocates.

Mary Eleanor Wall, pictured seated on the far right, with cousins and neighborhood children in Belle Glade, Florida, in the early 1940s.
Mary Eleanor Wall, pictured seated on the far right, with cousins and neighborhood children in Belle Glade, Florida, in the early 1940s. - Courtesy of David Wall
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As a young girl in the 1930s, Mary Eleanor's family moved from Michigan to Belle Glade, Florida, for her father's new job at the University of Florida.

Jim was raised in Monroe, Georgia, and his middle name, McKendree, pays homage to a distant relative, William McKendree, who was famously elected in 1808 as the first Methodist bishop born in America.

Jim and Mary Eleanor Wall, pictured center, flanked by their parents, were married in 1953 in Georgia.
Jim and Mary Eleanor Wall, pictured center, flanked by their parents, were married in 1953 in Georgia. - Courtesy of David Wall

After they married in 1953, the Walls lived in Georgia for a few years and had two sons, David and Robert, while Jim became an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The family moved to Chicago in 1957 as Jim obtained a master's degree from the University of Chicago and served as pastor for a church in the city.

Jim and Mary Eleanor Wall at a church camp.
Jim and Mary Eleanor Wall at a church camp. - Courtesy of David Wall

After they settled into Elmhurst in 1959, the Walls welcomed their third son, Richard, and Mary Eleanor joined the school committee for Elmhurst Unit District 205.

Her leadership within the community started to take shape when she became a member of the Elmhurst branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), and served as its president from 1965 to 1967. A few years later, she founded the DuPage County Democratic Women's Caucus and, in 1974, became one of the first Democratic women to be elected to the DuPage County Board.

Also an active Democrat, Jim became the party's nominee for Congress in the old 14th District in Illinois in 1972 while he was working as editor of The Christian Century. That same year, he was elected a delegate pledged to George McGovern at the Democratic National Convention and served as caucus chair for the Illinois McGovern delegation.

President Jimmy Carter, right, visits with, from left, Jim Wall, son Richard, and wife Mary Eleanor at their Elmhurst home in 1978.
President Jimmy Carter, right, visits with, from left, Jim Wall, son Richard, and wife Mary Eleanor at their Elmhurst home in 1978. - Courtesy of David Wall

When fellow Georgian and Democrat Jimmy Carter announced his run for the presidency in 1974, he looked for someone to help him navigate politics in Illinois.

After meeting at an event in Chicago, Jim became the Illinois chairman for Carter's primary and general campaigns. He would later manage Democrat Paul Simon's successful U.S. Senate campaign in the early 1980s, and served as the Illinois chairman for Al Gore's presidential campaign in 1988.

While President Carter was in office, Mary Eleanor received two presidential appointments.

Mary Eleanor Wall with Vice President Walter Mondale during the Carter administration. Mondale personally called Mary Eleanor to inform her of her first presidential appointment in 1977.
Mary Eleanor Wall with Vice President Walter Mondale during the Carter administration. Mondale personally called Mary Eleanor to inform her of her first presidential appointment in 1977. - Courtesy of David Wall

In 1977, she was appointed to a commission to make recommendations to the president for a new director of the FBI. The second appointment came in 1980 when she was appointed to the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.

In between traveling to Washington, Mary Eleanor helped organize the DuPage Senior Citizens Council, which led her to start Senior Home Sharing, a nonprofit providing affordable senior housing in shared residences. She served as its executive director until her retirement from the organization in 2000.

Through her continued work in the county, Mary Eleanor envisioned a way to encourage community giving to bolster the quality of life for DuPage residents.

In 1985, Brooks McCormick became a DuPage County Regional Planning Commissioner, a role Mary Eleanor had also held since the late '70s.

At the time, McCormick was chairman of the executive committee for The Chicago Community Trust. While working together, they saw the extraordinary population growth in DuPage and recognized the power of creating a local charitable institution to help area nonprofit organizations support the county's growing needs. Jerry Bradshaw, president of Gary-Wheaton Bank, was asked to join the effort to establish a community foundation in DuPage.

Robert Wall remembers hearing about the beginnings of The DuPage Community Foundation from his mother while at the dinner table.

"She and Pop would talk about the foundation and he thought it was a good idea," Robert said. "Both of my parents encouraged us to set goals and dreams, and to think things through and follow our hearts. Pop encouraged her in the same way, and was always very supportive of the things she wanted to do."

With Wall, McCormick and Bradshaw at the helm, six other community leaders were recruited to join an inaugural advisory committee to guide the foundation's structure and scope of grantmaking. Jody Ellyne Bailey was appointed to the committee through her role as the community relations manager for AT&T-Bell Laboratories.

"Mary Eleanor was a dynamo," Bailey said. "She really provided the vision and was the driving force behind the foundation, and had the determination to help grow it to where it is today."

On Sept. 30, 1986, The DuPage Community Foundation became the new charitable conduit for DuPage County, starting out as a donor-advised fund of The Chicago Community Trust with a $100,000 matching challenge grant.

Once the foundation began making grants and became a permanent fixture in DuPage, others were drawn to the cause. Since its inception, DuPage Foundation has granted more than $65 million to nonprofit organizations in DuPage County and beyond.

Mary Eleanor Wall co-founded DuPage Foundation in 1986 and served as its first board chair until 1991.
Mary Eleanor Wall co-founded DuPage Foundation in 1986 and served as its first board chair until 1991. - Courtesy of DuPage Foundation

"Mary Eleanor Wall was one of the most celebrated leaders of our 35-year history," said DuPage Foundation President and CEO Dave McGowan. "She was a special person with a unique vision and strong ambition to make DuPage County a better place."

When DuPage Foundation celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2011, Mary Eleanor reflected on its growth, and was not surprised. She said, "We knew the potential was there. We fully expected it to work. We worked hard to bring together the right people and to create the right mission."

DuPage Foundation wasn't the only nonprofit to which the Walls contributed.

As a journalist, Jim traveled to the Middle East more than 20 times in his career, where he learned about the Palestinian way of life. Mary Eleanor accompanied him on several trips and shared his passion for exploring the history and civilizations of different countries.

Mary Eleanor and Jim Wall helped Estephan and Laurie Salameh establish the Seraj Library Project, a nonprofit dedicated to building public libraries in Palestine.
Mary Eleanor and Jim Wall helped Estephan and Laurie Salameh establish the Seraj Library Project, a nonprofit dedicated to building public libraries in Palestine. - Courtesy of Seraj Library Project

Wanting to expand his knowledge, Jim enrolled in an Arabic class at North Park University in Chicago taught by Estephan Salameh, who came to the United States from Jerusalem for graduate school. After Salameh shared with his students a paper he wrote about an idea to build libraries in Palestine, Jim and others in the class rallied around the concept.

At the time, Jim was president of the board of the Elmhurst Public Library and felt strongly about the idea.

With the help of an ardent group of supporters, including the Walls, Salameh and his wife, Laurie, established the Seraj Library Project in 2005 to make the idea a reality. Jim served as the organization's first board chair, and he and Mary Eleanor supported the organization as volunteers and donors.

John Cassel, vice chair and treasurer of the Seraj Library Project, served on the board with the Walls and said Jim was one of the biggest advocates for Salameh's idea, initially gathering people together to raise money for the cause.

After Jim and Mary Eleanor retired from the Seraj board in 2015, the board initiated a fundraising campaign to honor their commitment to the organization.

By the end of 2016, the Wall Library Campaign raised more than $50,000.

In 2017, through gifts from the Walls and others who wished to honor them, Seraj opened the Jiftlek Library, located in the small village of Jiftlek in the Jordan Valley area. This was the organization's eighth library completed in Palestine.

In 2012, Mary Eleanor Wall played the piano and oldest son David Wall sang a hymn at the Kidder Memorial United Methodist Church in Jamestown, N.Y. Her grandparents started the church in 1906.
In 2012, Mary Eleanor Wall played the piano and oldest son David Wall sang a hymn at the Kidder Memorial United Methodist Church in Jamestown, N.Y. Her grandparents started the church in 1906. - Courtesy of David Wall

The Walls lived in their Elmhurst home until 2012, when they moved to nearby Park Place, a senior living community. Several times a year, Mary Eleanor would give educational talks for her fellow residents about her and Jim's world travels and discoveries.

Mary Eleanor passed away in February 2022, almost a year after Jim.

Through a bequest, the Walls made a commitment to DuPage Foundation's Legacy Society, allocating a portion of their estate for their donor-advised fund at the foundation.

Their three children will continue to recommend grants from the fund in support of causes and organizations that Jim and Mary Eleanor loved, as well as causes and organizations that are of significance to the family.

Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, Illinois Secretary of State Michael Howlett, Jimmy Carter and Jim Wall during Carter's 1976 presidential campaign.
Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, Illinois Secretary of State Michael Howlett, Jimmy Carter and Jim Wall during Carter's 1976 presidential campaign. - Courtesy of David Wall

Reflecting on the impact his parents made in the community and around the world, David Wall said Jim and Mary Eleanor were most proud of the family they raised.

"Through our mother's actions and tendency to help people whenever she could, she really demonstrated how to serve others," David said. "It likely led to my career as a firefighter and paramedic, and volunteerism as a child advocate and with other causes."

Mary Eleanor during a trip to East Germany in 1985.
Mary Eleanor during a trip to East Germany in 1985. - Courtesy of Janice Hoffman

After Mary Eleanor passed, the family received countless notes describing her acts of kindness and little anecdotes that were appreciated by many.

"Mom was a great listener," David said. "She always made you feel like you were the only person in the room. It's hard to know what she instilled in us, but we all forged our own way, and we can thank her for that. Truly, we were fortunate to have both my parents for so long."

• The Leaders & Legacies series is brought to you by the Legacy Society of DuPage Foundation. Suggestions for future stories can be sent to Mindy Saban, director of communications, at mindy@dupagefoundation.org. Interested in learning more about how you can make an impact or create a legacy for your community and favorite causes? Visit www.dupagefoundation.org or call (630) 665-5556. DuPage Foundation is located at 3000 Woodcreek Drive, Suite 310, in Downers Grove, IL 60515.