The most senior person on Wentcher’s staff, Brian Fitzpatrick, recalls meeting Ernie Wentcher, the founder of the Wentcher Foundation, for the first time over 50 years ago.
Brian had just graduated from college in 1971 when they met at a Saturday morning pickup game of tennis. Saturday and Sunday morning tennis games became a routine and over several years they became good friends. Because of their large age difference, Brian describes Ernie and himself as an unlikely pair. However, despite the generational gap, they were both able to add something valuable to each other’s lives. In 1996, Ernie asked Brian to become a Board Member of the foundation he was creating. As they discussed the potential activities of the foundation, Ernie wanted to impact the stark inequity he saw in access to college educations, but he was initially uncertain whether it would be through trade schools, community colleges, or universities. Brian remembers promising Ernie, “Whatever direction you decide the foundation will take, we’ll accomplish something special.”
As Ernie grew older and their friendship matured, Ernie unexpectedly asked Brian to be the executor of his estate. Brian agreed even though he had no idea what being an executor meant or how much the estate was worth at the time. He told us that when he saw the numbers several years later it seemed like there were way too many zeros! According to Brian, Ernie was a humble guy. Although he lived comfortably, he didn’t live or act like a multi-millionaire. In 2011, Ernie asked Brian to become President of the Board of Directors. Initially, Brian refused because he did not want to upstage Ernie. However, at this time Ernie was 97 and members of the board insisted because of his advanced age. Two years later in September 2013, Ernie passed away at the age of 99. Reflecting back, Brian considers himself lucky to have been Ernie’s friend and describes him as an amazing man with a bold personality, a great sense of humor and a big heart.
Before being involved with the Wentcher Foundation, Brian’s career was focused on Human Resources. Once Brian graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1971 with a degree in Economics, he began his first job at Allstate Insurance as an Operations Supervisor. The job appealed to him because he was able to pursue management, as well as lead a marketing study, and participate in an IT project. One year later, Allstate was in its rapid growth stage and Brian was asked to transfer into Human Resources to help deal with the company’s growth challenges. He recalls receiving valuable training, learning interviewing skills from a former FBI agent and labor law from a labor attorney. Brian learned much about evaluating and differentiating talent in his HR career which helped prepare him for his role at Wentcher leading the selection of Wentcher Scholars.
After working at Allstate for almost 20 years, Brian was recruited by Deloitte to lead HR in their Chicago office. Deloitte is known as the world’s largest professional services firm with over 300,000 employees globally. During his time there, Brian progressed through increasingly larger and more demanding responsibilities. He served as the National HR Leader for all US offices and two additional offices with US employees working in India. Brian spent a lot of time in India. Taking sixteen trips there in three years, he spent almost the equivalent of a year on the ground in India growing the number of employees in India from 300 to 6,000! Despite the challenging work and significant travel to the many offices in the US as well as to and from India, Brian says he thoroughly enjoyed his assignments and was able to use weekends to see much of India. His family visited him and explored India twice and he was able to experience the Taj Mahal three times. Another highlight for him was a visit to Pushkar, Rajasthan for the annual Pushkar Camel Festival which included the world’s largest grouping of camels and snake charmers.
In 2009 Brian retired from Deloitte, and increased his commitment volunteering for the foundation. In 2014, the Board determined the foundation needed greater administration to grow, adding paid staff and requiring Brian to accept compensation for his role. Today, Brian continues as the President of the Board of Directors and Executive Director of the Wentcher Foundation. In these two roles, he works on the governance of the foundation as well as leads the management and operations of the foundation. This includes daily management of the foundation staff and operations, providing leadership to the Board of Directors and Brian’s newest task, working on a book about Ernie’s life. Brian recalls the early days of the foundation when the entire staff was just Ernie’s part time secretary, Norma Berfield, and him. He told us, “Norma had the checkbook and landline and I had a laptop and that’s how we operated the foundation from a small office across the hall from Ernie’s apartment.”
We asked Brian what his favorite part of his role with the Wentcher Foundation has been and he had quite a bit to say! He told us that there are two parts he enjoys most: watching the wonderful young people grow and mature through their college experiences, and then watching them go on to become successful. “It’s amazing seeing Wentcher Scholars when we first meet them as high school seniors and then seeing them when they graduate from college. Even after that they go on to be life changers.” His second favorite part of his role is helping to make Ernie’s vision become a reality.
Brian told us that he is especially excited about this year, “Because we have so much to celebrate! We’ll be launching a book about Ernie’s life, and we’ll reach four incredible milestones. The Wentcher foundation is approaching its 25th anniversary, and as that happens we’ll be launching the 21st class of Wentcher Scholars, reaching $20,000,000 of scholarship funding, and awarding our 1,000th Wentcher Scholarship.”
Brian believes that “It’s fun to now reflect on what Ernie created, where the foundation has come from, and the impact it has made.” We’re building a Wentcher Community of the future and enhancing the reputation of the foundation and, most importantly, what it means to be a Wentcher Scholar. Brian said, “Looking back now 25 years later, I think about that promise I made to Ernie to help him accomplish something special. I believe we’ve done that, but we’re not letting up one bit. We are very dedicated to continuing the growth and development of the foundation while building the support for current Wentcher Scholars.
Outside of the Wentcher Foundation, Brian keeps himself busy! He is a family man who enjoys spending time with his wife, two daughters, son in law, and two grandchildren. He also has many friendships and interests including golf, travel, film and photography.
We at the Wentcher Foundation are so lucky to have Brian and are grateful to him for all the work he has put in to better the Foundation and continue Ernie’s legacy!