Women of Philanthropy: Patty Cherry Reece

Patty Cherry Reece
Co-founder, The Warren W. “Billy” Cherry Scholarship Fund
Skokie

Even though she’s retired from teaching in District 65, Patty Reece continues doing what teachers do: She believes in people.

In her hometown of Evanston, Patty’s support of young people through the Warren W. “Billy” Cherry Scholarship Fund has left a legacy of teachers and youth workers who will transform young lives for years to come.

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” says Patty, who taught elementary and middle school for 34 years. That’s why the foundation awardees—graduates of Evanston Township High School or GED recipients—are often kids who experienced bumps in the road before they realized they wanted to go into teaching or youth work.

Patty’s late brother, Warren Cherry, is a perfect example. Growing up, he wasn’t interested in academics. After high school he worked as a barber for two years before realizing that he wanted to go to school. Starting off at a community college, he went on to earn a master’s degree and did doctoral coursework at Northwestern. He became a teacher, and worked his way up to principal in District 65.

The fund celebrates “his openness to all,” Patty says, “his ability to get along with people, to reach out to them, and to believe in people.” And the most meaningful part of the foundation is not the money, but the message the recipients take away: “You believe in me,” Patty says.

In the last five years alone, the fund has awarded more than $100,000 in scholarships—and Patty takes great pride in the grassroots organization she helped found in 1993. “We’re like ‘The Little Engine That Could,’ ” she says.

Along with her husband, Bob, and Jan and Tom Hazlett, Patty co-chaired the yearlong celebration of the McGaw YMCA’s 125th anniversary this year, which included several fundraising events. “It does so much for the youth,” she says of McGaw.

Like her brother, Patty truly has a passion for Evanston and credits its warm, welcoming community for her philanthropic accomplishments: “It’s the community’s support of the volunteers that really makes a difference.”

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