Updated: October 15, 2012 9:28AM
I grew up living in the Hyatt Regency Chicago — picture Eloise as a high school boy. My father, Don DePorter, was regional vice president for Hyatt at the time.
In the late ’70s and early ’80s, he would hear from tourists who thought Chicago was dirty and unwelcoming. They would come here for business, it would never occur to them to come here for pleasure. Graffiti, litter and mud welcomed guests on the drive from O’Hare into the city.
In 1986, my dad decided it was time to change all of that. So, he founded Chicago Gateway Green, an organization dedicated to urban beautification. It was many years before being “green” became such a buzz-word.
When Mayor Daley took office in 1989, it was a match made in heaven — the mayor was just beginning his mission to become the “greenest” mayor in the country. But his mission went beyond litter. My dad used to tell the story about the time the mayor called him late one night and complained that as he had passed the Hubbard Street cave, he witnessed an illicit act between a man and woman on the state-controlled expressway embankment (the city police had no authority over that property). At the mayor’s request, my dad had to call Governor Edgar immediately that night to relay a message. As far as I know, nothing like ever happened again on the expressway within the city limits.
My dad recruited hundreds of volunteers from the tourism industry to help him pick up litter all over the city. One of the sites was the river bank near Chinatown. It was filled with litter, discarded hypodermic syringes and four-foot-tall weeds. We discovered, too late, that some of those weeds were poison ivy. Volunteers didn’t complain about the itching — they felt like they were taking one for the team.
After volunteers spent the day cleaning and greening, he would host them at a thank-you party at the Hyatt. These parties were notoriously raucous and usually ended with groups of people in my dad’s “party room” three levels below the lobby, which had a hot tub, pool table, sauna and bar. When my dad saw how much fun the volunteers were having at the thank-you parties, he decided to create an even bigger party as a way to raise money for Gateway Green. That idea became the Green Tie Ball, and the first one was held in 1992 in a giant tent on Orleans Street between Grand and Ohio. Mayor Daley closed down the street for the event.
The 21st annual Green Tie Ball is Saturday at Finkl Steel, and is expected to have nearly 3,000 attendees sampling food from 70 local restaurants.
Unfortunately, my dad never got to see Gateway Green as big as it is today because he passed away in 1996. When Mayor Daley and Governor Edgar heard that my father was sick, they wanted to honor him by naming the gateway entering the city at Ohio and Orleans the Donald J. DePorter Gateway. At the dedication, Mayor Daley said that my dad helped shift Chicago away from being just concrete and steel and embraced the human side of living here. He credited Gateway Green with significantly contributing to the rebirth of Chicago. I’m proud to carry on my father’s legacy as chairman of Gateway Green.
Today, as we put in the final preparations for the Green Tie Ball, he’s here in spirit — celebrating with all the Gateway Green volunteers and supporters.
Grant DePorter donated his fee for writing this column to Gateway Green. Tickets are available at www.gatewaygreen.org.