Andrew J. McKenna, a graduate with Leo’s Class of 1947 and one of the school’s strongest and most loyal supporters, died in his Winnetka home on Tuesday, Feb. 7, surrounded by his large and loving family. He was 93.
Mr. McKenna was known as “Andy” to his friends, as “Cubby” to his 24 grandchildren and as “the Chairman” to fellow business and civic leaders, in deference to his penchant for winding up as the head of virtually every organization with which he involved himself.
Mr. McKenna truly was one of the most influential power brokers in Chicago history, a pillar within the city’s business, civic, philanthropic and sports communities for more than a half-century. He served as board chairman for such noteworthy institutions as the University of Notre Dame, McDonald’s Corp. and both the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs.
And yet, Leo High School always held a place in Mr. McKenna’s heart, from his days as an honor student, senior class president and sports editor of The Oriole, the school newspaper.
“I am equal parts saddened and stunned by Andy’s death,” said Leo President Dan McGrath, a longtime friend of Mr. McKenna. “I thought, or I should say I hoped, he would live forever. We have not had a better friend.
“I wouldn’t think of making a significant decision without running it by Andy first,” McGrath added. “He was probably the wisest, most clear-thinking individual I have ever known, and also the nicest. Leo High School is forever indebted to him. The world is a lesser place today.”
In 2016, Leo held its first Scholarship Benefit to celebrate its 90-year anniversary, and to fund tuition assistance for deserving students who were increasing in number as Leo’s enrollment grew. Mr. McKenna agreed to accept the first Leo Lions Legacy Award as recognition for his lifetime of service to others.
With a who’s who of Chicago dignitaries in attendance at the Four Seasons Hotel, more than $2 million was raised for the Leo High School Scholarship Fund. The Benefit has become an annual event, and with Mr. McKenna’s continued support, it is Leo’s No. 1 fundraising vehicle.
“His whole life has been about investing in others,” Cardinal Blase Cupich said in delivering the Benefit invocation. “Tonight we have a visible way of seeing how that investment has promise of paying great dividends in the future.”
Mr. McKenna’s leadership touched all manner of Chicago institutions, ranging from the Chicago Bears to the Lyric Opera.
• He is the only man to have served as chairman of Chicago’s two major league baseball teams, literally saving the White Sox for Chicago when the team seemed headed for Seattle after the 1975 season. The Cubs on his watch ended a 39-year postseason drought by winning a National League East division title in 1984.
• He served 12 years as Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the University of Notre Dame, his alma mater, and 16 years as Chairman of the Board of Directors at McDonald’s, the international fast-food giant.
• Lurie Children’s Hospital, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry are among the many civic entities to which Mr. McKenna devoted his time, treasure and talent. He was one of four co-founders of the Big Shoulders Fund.
And yet, he always found time for Leo.
“A lot of the values I still adhere to today date to my time at Leo,” Mr. McKenna told an interviewer in 2019. ““Ambition, responsibility, work ethic, time management … I don’t know that I could have got more out of high school.”
At the Scholarship Benefit, Mr. McKenna recalled taking three streetcars from his South Shore home to Leo every day, but he said he was well-served by the experience. He urged the young Lions in attendance to follow his example.
“The world is yearning for young men like you, and the opportunities are enormous. Show up. Get involved. Stick with it.”
This quote is a succinct summation of his definition of a life well lived, which his most assuredly was:
“At the end of life, I think the measure of success is not how much you’ve got, but how much you’ve given.
“Not how much you’ve earned, but how much you’ve returned.
“Not how much you’ve won, but how much you’ve done.”
Mr. McKenna’s wife of 66 years, Joan preceded him in death in 2019. Survivors include seven grown children, 24 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren … and a grateful city.
Facta Non Verba—Deeds Not Words. It was not just a school motto to Andy McKenna. It was a way of life.