When she was growing up on a small farm in southern Illinois, Vickie Burke could never have imagined life on the North Shore.
But one need only spend a few minutes with her to deduce that Burke was destined to become a mover and shaker here.
Make It Better interviewed this lithe powerhouse at Starbucks a few weeks ago. She arrived with a stack of literature that reflects many of the good ideas that she has helped bring to life here, including innovations at NorthShore University HealthSystems, Evanston’s Women’s Club and Community Foundation, the ETHS Foundation and McGaw YMCA. Burke also names several other not-for-profits that she has helped, including assuming a large role in the capital campaign at her alma mater, Eastern Illinois University.
Burke’s lively, determined brown eyes stay focused on the listener. Diamond rings adorn slender third fingers on both hands wrapped around her Starbucks cup. Precisely cut, chin-length brown hair tucked behind her ears, frames her strong and beautiful face. A gold four-leaf clover necklace pays a whimsical nod to an adult life of good fortune following her humble childhood.
“I never wanted for food, but otherwise life on the farm was basic. We did our own slaughtering and canning.” Burke says. “I never felt like I belonged either.”
She said she always identified with the stronger women in her family who lived elsewhere and thought outside the box. Which is why the North Shore is a perfect fit for Burke and her family.
In 1975, pregnant with the first of their three daughters, Burke moved to Evanston with her husband, Tim.
“Moving here just felt right,” she says.
While her husband worked his way to partner at Arthur Anderson and then became CFO of William Blair & Co, Burke raised their children, played competitive tennis and became an organizational force for good.
“I’m all about collaboration and networking,” Burke says. “That’s what women do. “It’s about what I can see an idea becoming. If its something that speaks to me, I do what I can to help it get started.”
Her vision and energy have brought to life the Evanston Women’s History Project, created substantial growth of the integrative medicine practice at NorthShore University HealthSystem and lead a million-dollar capital campaign for the Evanston Women’s Club.
They have also led to her appointment as Board Chair of McGaw YMCA. She is only the second woman in McGaw’s 124 year history to hold that position.
Burke’s true grit and appreciation for life shine through as she describes her recent battle with Stage 3 sarcoma cancer. This followed hard on the heels of her husband’s 6-year fight with bladder cancer and her father-in-law’s death of bladder cancer.
Following surgery to remove a 2-1/2 pound tumor and several days of post-operative recovery, doctors told Burke that their goal was to have her using a walker when she left the hospital.
“I decided: NO! I’m going to walk out of here!”
And she did.
In conjunction with radiation and chemotherapy treatments, Burke used integrative medicine—at the hospital and at Golden Door spa—to expedite healing. This included acupuncture, massage and hypnotherapy.
These alternative techniques prompted such exceptionally fast healing that her radiation oncologist declared himself a convert, and NorthShore is now growing integrative medicine in their Evanston and Highland Park Hospitals. Burke ensured this by founding a scholarship program at Evanston and working with the Highland Park Hospital’s Auxiliary Board.
Though Burke plans to focus most of her not-for-profit efforts on McGaw during her 2-year Board Chairmanship, she will continue to help at the hospital with the Women’s History Project and wherever else she is needed. She hopes to fund-raise more intensely for integrative medicine after her McGaw Chairmanship.
Whatever the future actually brings, it seems certain that Burke’s passion for living with purpose will lead her to accomplishing good with other amazing women.
As she declares before leaving for a massage appointment: “I love being with strong women!”
And Make It Better does, too. For that reason, we look forward to following Burke as a Local Treasure for years to come.