Frankfort man offers service with a smile, and a style all his own
BY JAIME ANGIO Correspondent January 7, 2013 1:12PM
Don Schwarz at his Frankfort home Thursday, December 6, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Donnell Schwarz hasn’t earned a paycheck in nearly 10 years.
But the Frankfort man still is “working” his way through his retirement — and working so much that his efforts have landed him a Hall of Fame award.
He earned the honor by volunteering more than 1,500 hours and providing invaluable business expertise. Schwarz, 73, recently was recognized for his volunteer service for the Executive Service Corps of Chicago, a nonprofit that enhances the overall impact of other Chicago-area nonprofits and public agencies by providing professional and affordable consulting services that enable the organizations to meet the needs of those they serve.
“It made me feel good in the sense of getting some kind of recognition,” Schwarz said of the award. “It makes me feel good that maybe one percentage of that 1,500 (hours) might have been beneficial to the organizations that I was working with.”
Schwarz said there are “250 or so” Executive Service Corps volunteers “just like me — former CEOs, business owners, top executives ... (who) have a tremendous amount of expertise that can be shared, particularly after they retire and they don’t have to worry about going into the office every day.”
Schwarz, married to his wife Jeanne for close to 50 years, is a grandfather of five who climbed the corporate ladder in the telecommunications industry.
“I was in the service side of the business — customer service,” Schwarz said. “From assistant manager, to manager, to district manager and up.”
He retired in 1993 from Ameritech, where he was director of external affairs for the international division. He then opened an international public relations firm, handling executive events and trade shows.
Schwarz has traveled extensively, to places such as Cairo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Australia and New Zealand. Many are a long way from his downstate hometown of Decatur, where he was involved in high school sports and student council.
Schwarz, who attended St. Theresa High School before earning an industrial management degree from Millikin University in 1961, said he worked construction to put himself through school.
“I didn’t have a lot of spare time,” he said.
He moved to Chicago in 1961 and started working with Illinois Bell. He held various positions there until going to work at AT&T in New York in 1970. He also attended graduate school at Pace University while in New York, earning a master’s degree in management.
His professional experiences and a chance meeting with a former Ameritech cohort indirectly led to the Hall of Fame award.
The chance meeting came when Schwarz was involved with a Chicago District Golf Association project, the Sunshine Through Golf Foundation. The project manager for Executive Service Corps, a friend of Schwarz’s from Ameritech, urged him to get involved.
“I said, ‘Well, tell me what it’s about.’ He told me, and I got sucked in,” Schwarz said. “My first project was with mentally and physically disabled people, and I got an inside look and an inside feel of what these people are faced with and what their parents and guardians are faced with ... you leave those places, and you don’t know whether to cry, or at the end of the project, when you see someone smiling, you want to smile with them.”
Schwarz loves to be involved with the community. His client roster includes the Glen Ellyn Children’s Resource Center, Jewish Vocational Services, All Saints Catholic Academy, and Chicago Heights-based SouthSTAR Services.
“My entire career, I was trained by Illinois Bell and Ameritech to be involved with the community,” he said.
He said his schedule now sometimes “is more busy than when I was employed.”
Schwarz also is involved with New Lenox Performing Arts, St. Anthony Catholic Church, the Frankfort plan commission and the CDGA, and he recently joined the board of the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra.
Is he slowing down any time soon?
“As long as I’m physically and mentally capable, I’m going to continue to do this,” he said.
And that 1,500 hours he served was no magic number.
“I’m on my way to 3,000,” he said.