Med owner pledges $20,000 matching grant

By Ira J. Dounn

Hans and Kathy Morsbach, owners of Medici on 57th and longtime Hyde Park inhabitants, have pledged $20,000 in matching donations to the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club capital campaign. Between September 1 and November 15, for every $1,000 donated to the campaign, the Morsbachs promise to add to the campaign a matching $1,000 up to a maximum of $20,000. Twenty $1,000 donations have since been given to the campaign.

The Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, located at 5480 South Kenwood Avenue, serves as a community center for local residents. Built in 1951, the Neighborhood Club’s current building requires extensive renovation. “We’re trying to raise $300,000 from individuals and local businesses to make the facility better so that our programs can be even better,” said Linda Swift, the club’s director of development. “I think the most important part is that we serve . . . the entire spectrum of ages of people and we just had a crummy heating system.”

In the past few years, the heating system, which vacillates between sweltering and frigid temperatures, often has made rooms uninhabitable. Two winters ago, an employee’s soles were burned off the bottom of her shoes by a sizzlinghot floor. The heat level varied throughout the rooms of the building, and seniors at the club often needed to wear their jackets in the building the winter.

In addition to the building’s heating problems, its roof suffered from severe leaks. These proved not to be merely issues of comfort. Hospital social workers would not refer their clients to the Neighborhood Club because of its unreliable climate conditions.

The club’s “We’re Getting Stronger!” capital campaign, running from March 15 through November 15, intends to raise the funds to properly refurbish the club’s building. The roof will be replaced and a new heating system, central air conditioning unit, and windows will be installed. The new windows will provide an opportunity for the seniors and children to see the Neighborhood Club’s recently completed backyard garden instead of the old cinderblock wall.

Hans Morsbach, now a sustaining board member, has been supporting the Neighborhood Club for over 30 years. As owner of Medici on 57th since 1963, Morsbach likes to support the neighborhood in which his company has existed and he has lived for so long. “I feel some obligation that I support local good institutions,” Morsbach said. “And especially right now it’s run by good people, and I think that it makes a contribution to the neighborhood. I just feel socially responsible.”

As of November 1, the “We’re Getting Stronger!” capital campaign had accumulated $271,000 in pledged donations. According to Swift, the Morsbachs’ challenge to the Hyde Park community has sparked extensive support for the campaign.

“Their offer to do this has really made a big difference,” Swift said. ” said she wouldn’t be able to give very much . . . But the Morsbachs made this challenge . . . and she sent us a check for $1,000.”

On December 3, 1909, the Hyde Park branch of the Juvenile Protective League began the club for neglected and underprivileged children.

Now, located in Nichols Park, the Neighborhood Club accommodates infants in an indoor playground and hosts a before- and after-school program for older children. Group leaders walk the children to the Ray School and Murray School in the morning and pick them up again after school to bring them to the club.

The Neighborhood Club invites adolescents to open gym in its gymnasium, where they can play basketball, soccer, pool, ping-pong, and engage in various other activities and games. Weekend excursions to bowling alleys, roller rinks, and an annual trip to Great America for the Halloween Fright Fest are organized for the teens by staff members.

The club provides a place for senior citizens to congregate, play bridge or dominoes, socialize with their friends, and eat a free lunch provided by Golden Diners, a project of the Chicago Department of Aging.

As of today, the “We’re Getting Stronger!” capital campaign has nine remaining days to reach its goal of $300,000.