Saturday 10th March 2019 – Chicago
My first ever trip to Chicago was going to be a brief one. Chicago was not on Harry’s original itinerary, however from the moment I connected with Denise Jorgens, the current I-House Chicago Executive Director, she convinced me that I could not do this trip without visiting all 3 original Rockefeller Houses. As I had already booked the majority of my flights and my timeline was pretty set, it meant that this would be a flying visit.
Denise’s husband Anil Trivedi, is an I-House NYC alum, so to me they are the ultimate I-House couple and are able to carry forward the I-House spirit respecting the history and evolving to keep up with changes in the wider world of student life.
Denise and Anil had first met with Chris and I in Tokyo when they happened to be there at the same time and seeing my candle relay in action inspired Denise to say that we could have a candlelight ceremony when I visited which was so exciting.
The Chicago House was the 3rd of the original Rockefeller Houses and was opened in 1932. They always wanted a House on each coast and one in the middle. Chicago seemed the obvious choice and it also had quite a significant international student population (c1000) in the late 1920s. Once Harry had helped agree the site, the building seems to have gone quite smoothly. Keeping continuity of Directors seemed to be more of the issue.
The House’s life has not been without ups and downs, including in its more recent history nearly being pulled down, but a concerted campaign by alumni saw it given a reprieve. It has also been extensively and carefully restored as well as continuing to modernise including making it wheelchair accessible. All around the House there are reminders of the history.
A couple of things really stand out about Chicago, one is that unlike all the other Houses I have visited they rarely rent their facilities to generate income, but keep them for internal and resident programs. The second thing is the very extensive program of events that are open to the wider Chicago community. Covering music, politics, dance, international affairs, film, literature, their program really does have something for everyone. https://ihouse.uchicago.edu/events/
Due to a lack of undergraduate accommodation on campus at the moment, the House is home to a fully undergraduate set of residents, but Denise continues to campaign for the House to be reverted to be a home for graduates as it was originally intended. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this will happen in stages over the next few years as other accommodation on the campus comes on line.
I have never attended a candlelight ceremony so I was so touched when Denise said that we could have one at Chicago. Her team went to so much trouble to make the evening perfect. Denise talked about the International Houses World Wide group and then I shared my reflections on my trip, this being the penultimate stop.
Harry ‘borrowed’ the Candlelight Ceremony from the YWCA. Just after I-House NYC was set up, his wife Florence, returned from a YWCA meeting and described this ceremony they had done with candles, pledging to pass the light on. Harry immediately saw that this would be a great tradition at the House and started it, obviously tweaking it so that representatives from each Nation came up to light their candle and then having everyone light their candle before the reading of the pledge. Today I-House NYC, Berkeley and Chicago all do the Ceremony as I believe do the Houses in Australia.
Three of the current Fellows led the ceremony and the pledge was read in 7 languages – English, Persian, French, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian. It was very moving. We then went on to have a delicious dinner of foods from around the world.
All in all despite the pouring rain my day at Chicago I-House was so full of warmth and welcome it was truly memorable and huge thanks go to Denise and her team.
Room with a View – Christina Whack – Christina joined us for the Candlelight Ceremony, she is an I-House alumna, who was studying Opera singing whilst at the House. She now performs in other genres https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncGv4rXwaTo and has all been working with her mother Rita Coburn Whack on the acclaimed documentary about Maya Angelou ‘And Still I Rise” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ihsqa4mVjEw Whilst at the House Christina took a number of jobs including being the Production Assistant / Technician for events. This had some advantages including being offered a room on the 11th floor in one of the towers of the House which had windows on two sides and afforded a beautiful view down the Hudson for Christina to wake up to every day.