BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
This month, Judy’s People begins a series on three fascinating volunteers whose accomplishments impact the lives of an enormous amount of people, be they devoted music lovers and concert goers, those with a passion for architecture, or students in our Chicago Public Schools.
We begin with Noren Ungaretti, a woman passionate about our parks.
Noren, tell us how you first got involved with the Parkways Foundation.
I was chairing a large committee of philanthropic women helping Chicago’s neediest neighborhood parks when the Chief Operating Officer of the Chicago Park District asked me to take the leadership of the parent board, Parkways Foundation. A small group of north side friends started recruiting other friends and donors who very quickly joined our project to support learning in the parks. We called ourselves the Council Ring, in part after Jens Jensen’s outdoor concepts.
Work with the Parkways Foundation and creating a group we called the Council Ring was some of the most extensive, challenging, and ultimately the most fun volunteer work I have done. This job ran the spectrum of urban experiences from ladies luncheons under tents to becoming friends with rock stars.
Eventually, the group grew large enough to establish a signature event in Millennium Park. We called it the Garden Party and it ultimately was regularly attended by hundreds of women as well as men, also in terrific hats, raising several hundreds of thousands of dollars – not so easy over lunch.
How could anyone forget those “Hat Parties”! They were not only fabulous, but helped raise so much money for inner city parks.
The public profile assisted us in enlarging our scope and raising even more money, always focusing on underserved neighborhoods. We built the first universally accessible park in Columbus Park, a nature classroom in Humboldt Park for summer and after-school learning, and added many programs to help inner city children learn about the natural world.
Lollapalooza, which has helped skyrocket the careers of Kayne West, Lady Gaga, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to name a few, is almost here – descending on Grant Park this year July 28 through 31. You helped bring it to Chicago through the Parkways Foundation. Tell us how it began and how this nonprofit made one of the most popular and well-known outdoor music festivals around the world possible?
Success tends to engender more growth and within a year, producers of a music festival in Austin came to Chicago to bring their concept of a multi-day alternative rock music event. Their business model was a new one, to include the producers, the Park District, and a non-profit partner as a team. The festival, under previous producers, had developed a challenging reputation since its founding in 1991, so when the idea was first circulated here there were a lot of concerns: the city had canceled large rock concerts in the past, would they try again? But as the chairman of the charitable partner of the Park District, I had to recommend to our board if we would agree to develop the concept in partnership with the city. After much contract review by all kinds of lawyers I signed the first agreement to bring Lollapalooza to Chicago. And then things got really fun.
What was it like to start a rock festival now attended by millions of fans and featuring everything from rock to punk, hip hop to electronic sounds?
The producers Charlie Jones and Charles Attal brought Perry Ferrell of Jane’s Addiction and his wife Etty to town for a press conference in 2005. The Council Ring was having a press party at Neiman Marcus the night prior featuring British phenomenon milliner Philip Treacy. Perry and his group stopped over to say hi and to meet Philip and some of our Council Ring members. This was a month before Camilla Parker Bowles wore a hat designed by Philip for her marriage to Prince Charles.
Perry was even better dressed than the luncheon ladies that night in a purple velvet suit. He bought one of Philip’s white hats and wore it at a photo shoot the next day. It appeared on the cover of Time Out Chicago. There was some confusion among the women attending. We tried to explain the name of his band – Jane’s Addiction – but several of them kept asking who Jane was and what problem did she have? That evening was a highlight for me: my lovely and generous friends making new friends with fashion designs and rock stars.
Tell us more about Perry Ferrell and his Chicago visit.
The producers took me with them to dinner, where Etty told me she was a classically trained ballerina from Hong Kong, so I took she and Perry to the Joffrey Ballet Gala the next week. They met Gerald Arpino, who gallantly stated he had always wanted to compose a ballet to alternative rock music. I was astounded that Mr. Arpino had heard of Perry’s band. Of course, the dancers all knew Perry and kept stopping by our table all night to meet him.
Perry is absolutely charming in person and very gracious. I was very impressed when my husband Richard admitted to Perry that he just didn’t understand his music. Perry responded by asking Richard what music did speak to him. When Richard replied, “Tony Bennett,” Perry said that how much he would like to perform with Tony at Ravinia. This was years before Bennett’s work with Lady Gaga, who also performed at Lollapalooza. This entire experience was a lesson in how gifted artists naturally gravitate to other major talents, no matter the age or style.
What an exciting time that must have been! What are some of your other favorite memories of your work with Parkways?
At our start, very few of our north side and north suburban members had ever been to Garfield Park or Columbus Park, and even fewer had much knowledge of the vast history of our city that is reflected in our south and west side parks, where we did most of our volunteering. We had wonderful events with trolley tours, garden walks, and meetings around the city, discussing with the local park councils about projects we would do in tandem, broadened our understanding. By the end we knew our city better and loved it more.
As an aside, before our second Garden Party, I traveled to London with Karen Goodyear, who had chaired the first year and was doing it again, and April Schink. We were walking down Beauchamp Place and spotted a vintage clothing store with a Philip Treacy hat in the window. They hustled me inside and said that if I didn’t buy that hat they weren’t letting me get on the plane home. It had been worn to an Ascot Ladies Day and it needed an outing on the other side of the Atlantic. I had to carry it through airports because it was so huge that there was no way to pack it. It was perfect for the second Garden Party.
How did you get started as a volunteer, even before your days with Chicago parks?
As a teen, I volunteered at Evanston Hospital, waiting tables in their café, delivering flower to mothers with newborns, typing hospital records, even picking up prescriptions at the pharmacy and taking them to patients. How medicine has changed!
I am proud that my daughter Malley has volunteered on many of my projects. I am always encouraging my husband Richard to take on a pro bono project or two.
No Council Ring member could ever forget Noren welcoming hundreds of guests from across the city, looking glamorous in that Philip Treacy hat at the Millennium Park luncheon, or opening a children’s garden alongside a great group of dedicated volunteers at Garfield Park Conservatory, a very early Parkways project. Her varied nonprofit path has led her to chair the Costume Council at the Chicago History Museum, hold major positions on the Joffrey Ballet and Goodman Theater boards, and volunteer with the Ability Lab of the Rehabilitation Institute, and at the Latin School of Chicago.
We celebrate Lollapalooza, now also in Santiago and Sao Paolo, Berlin and Bogota, this month, part of Noren’s legacy in putting Chicago parks on the map.
Watch for upcoming articles on Chuck MacLaughlan and Francee Harrington, two of other volunteers who make things happen in the City of Big Shoulders.