One good turn deserves another — even seven decades later.
That's what happened when local businesswoman and philanthropist Chatka Ruggiero recently paid a visit to the Oak Park-River Forest Day Nursery to present them with a $25,000 check.
It was her way of honoring her own circumstances years ago as her mom had to go back to work after her dad was called into military service in the 1940s.
"I heard about their centennial celebration's capital campaign, and that is when I remembered that during WWII — that was a long time ago — my father, Harry Busck, who was 35 at the time, was obligated to do war work out in Lake Michigan on a ship."
As a result, her mother, Lora Aborn Busck, an accomplished musician and composer, and longtime organist and music director at the Unity Temple Universalist Congregation in Oak Park, took over his bookselling business in Chicago.
"My mother had to find someone to watch me. So I remember going to the Day Nursery … and sitting in a sand box," Ruggiero recalled, laughing. "I don't remember much else, but I do remember the sand box."
Since then, Ruggiero, owner of Ruggiero Apartments in River Forest and the Arts Center, 200 N. Oak Park Ave., has chosen to practice philanthropy, believing it her civic obligation and personal privilege to give back to the two communities that enabled her to prosper.
In the 1970s, with other like-minded locals, she addressed some turbulent times that affected the Oak Park apartment market, and the community at large. At the time, multifamily buildings in the Austin area were distressed and deteriorating, and blight was a threat, so she began collaborating with a coalition of individuals in business and local government to purchase and renovate at-risk properties.
"We were all able to do a lot along Austin Boulevard," said Ruggiero, now in her 70s. "The village offered security grants to put in better locks and security and intercom systems to make it a safer environment for everyone."
Another hallmark of her community commitment is her tireless work with the Animal Care League, 1011 Garfield St., through monetary contributions and volunteerism, including a long tenure as ACL's board president.
After she stepped down, she stepped up and funded the new Chatka Ruggiero Spay/Neuter Clinic to reduce the number of unwanted animals.
"It is so important for animals to be spayed and neutered, and every animal owner should do it," she says.
In addition, the longtime River Forest resident, became a charter member of the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation's Women Leaders in Philanthropy, and one of the organizers of Community Bank of Oak Park and River Forest.
In the 1980s, Ruggiero took it upon herself to "save" the Arts Center, a former Christian Science temple, which now home of the Ernest Hemingway Museum, and the Lora Aborn Auditorium, named after her mother.
"I had never been in the building, and I asked my neighbor, who was a member, to look inside," she recalled. "When I saw it, I knew this really needed to be preserved. It was beautiful. So I bought it, and since then some great groups have been able to use it."
Regarding her recent donation to the Day Nursery, Ruggiero said that she wanted to support "a very worthwhile organization that helped my family out. I wanted to give something back."
Catherine Hart, executive director of the Day Nursery, said Ruggiero's gift helped push them closer to their $100,000 capital campaign goal. The funds raised during the centennial year will pay for a new roof and other critical building maintenance, as well as supporting the ongoing early childhood programming they provide to a wide spectrum of families, including single moms, in the Oak Park area.
Board member Nancy Guarino says they have transitioned into their second phase of recruiting 100 new donors. Those philanthropists, they hope, will volunteer their time and talent, in addition to their treasure.
"More than 70 years ago, during World War II, Chatka's father was called to service, and her mother had to work," said Guarino. "That is exactly what the Day Nursery was for, and it continues in that vein today."
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