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Tom Heineman, Director RPBG

Tom’s contribution to the Rogers Park Builders Group over the decades has been huge. His status, until last year, as RPBG Treasurer was much more than just an honorary title. Tom is a numbers guy and has the resume to prove it. He used his financial skills to benefit the organization for many years, often working behind the scenes to ensure that the group was solvent and could pay its bills. Under Tom’s budgetary leadership, RPBG built up a large surplus that has allowed us to significantly increase our charitable work and make an impact on the neighborhood we love so much.

Despite his important work and critical contributions to RPBG, Tom has a much lower profile than many of his fellow RPBG Directors. There are several reasons why this is true, starting with the fact that Tom is not a person who seeks the limelight, but also due to Tom’s work as a math tutor that often kept him away from our monthly meetings since this work was mostly on weekends and evenings.

A year ago, Tom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder that impacts movement and cognitive functions. Slowing the disease progression through intense exercise and diet is now a major focus of Tom’s life. This diagnosis prompted Tom to turn over his Treasurer functions to Steve Shah and to reassess his life and his plans for the future. The death last November of his beloved wife, Peggy, was yet another upheaval in Tom’s life and new incentive to reassess his future.

Luckily for all of us, Tom is not leaving the RPBG organization despite all these challenges and upheavals. If anything, Tom’s retirement from work and his handoff of Treasurer duties could actually allow Tom to be more present at future RPBG meetings.

So, who is this selfless and amazing man who has done so much for the organization but who has made these contributions largely out of view of RPBG Members and Directors? There are a few things that we should all know about Tom.

First, he is a committed Rogers Park resident and community member who moved to the neighborhood as a young adult and never looked back. Tom got married and raised his son in his multiunit building on Eastlake Terrace. If Tom has anything to say about it, this is where he will live out the rest of his life. His son, now married and with two young sons of his own, lives a few minutes away in West Ridge. Tom adores his grandkids and is happy that they are just minutes away.

Second, Tom is motivated more by his commitment to making a difference than by status or money. While Tom has done well in both business and real estate, Tom’s core values are based on social and political concerns and the environment. His son, Eric, has a degree in environmental studies and an MBA, and owns his own solar energy company. Eric has had a big influence on Tom and Peggy regarding environmental awareness.

Third, Tom is an incredible athlete with a boundless sense of adventure and can-do optimism. This is the man who, literally, paddled his kayak around the entire perimeter of Lake Michigan in the summer of 2006, braving thunder storms, four-foot waves and the boats and ships that regularly ply the waters of our beautiful Great Lake. Tom did this 865-mile journey in 46 days. Tom began his journey by heading north along the Wisconsin side of the Lake, crossing from the Door County peninsula to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, crossing the Straits of Mackinac to the lower Peninsula, and then paddling all the way back south along the Michigan and Indiana shorelines.

Tom said his most challenging day was the four mile crossing of Grand Traverse Bay which he did against howling south winds and heavy rains with little visibility. Most people will read this and think Tom must be a little crazy. Maybe so. But Tom has a more expansive view of what lies within the realm of possibility, and what the human mind and body can accomplish. Tom arrived back in Rogers Park, a little achy and worn out, but proud of his success.

Tom’s other athletic pursuits include competitive Masters Swimming for over 30 years and a three-year stint coaching the Von Steuben Girl’s Swim Team. He still swims three miles or more each week at Northwestern’s aquatic center.

Tom began his career in education after graduation from St. Mary’s College in Winona, Minnesota in 1970 with a Math Major and K-12 teacher certification. Immediately after college, Tom moved first to Trinidad, Colorado then to Raton, New Mexico where he taught math and other subjects.

Tom returned to Chicago in 1972 to work at the St. Thomas Of Canterbury elementary school in Uptown (1972-74) and then Providence-St. Mel High School in Garfield Park (1974-78). Anyone who knows anything about Chicago knows that the 1970s was a difficult time for many Chicago neighborhoods, certainly including Uptown and Garfield Park, both of which could be described as socially and economically distressed after decades of disinvestment and demographic change.

Tom’s idealism was enough reason to take the plunge and work in these struggling neighborhoods, doing his best to make a difference in the lives of kids whose educational options were limited and whose chances of success were already stacked against them. He had little faith in the public school system and was able to find work in struggling yet successful inner city private schools.

Tom quickly developed a reputation as a no-nonsense teacher and became head of the math department at Providence-St. Mel High School. Tom so impressed the principal at PSM that he was nominated for the Archdiocese of Chicago Teacher of the Year award during his third year at the school. He won the award and was proud of his work at this high-achievement African American High school in Garfield Park.

But teaching was stressful and the pay was minimal, particularly in private institutions in low-income neighborhoods. Tom decided he needed to change careers and ended up taking a job at Arthur Andersen in 1978. Tom started as a programming trainee at double the salary of his previous teaching job. His math background was very valuable at an accounting firm, and Tom quickly found himself rising up through the ranks of the company, taking on more responsibility and advancing as he went.

Tom was only a year from being able to qualify for early retirement with a generous pension and full health benefits when the company met its sudden and shocking demise in August 2002 in the wake of the Enron debacle. This unplanned change in circumstances forced Tom, once again, to reconsider his career options and make new plans. Then in his mid-50s, with a mortgage to pay and a family to provide for, retirement was not an option.

Tom decided that he had had enough of the corporate world and wanted to find something that offered more flexibility and creativity. After considering some options, Tom settled on the idea of becoming a math tutor. Tom had some good connections to schools through his past work as a math teacher, his wife Peggy who continued to teach at Von Steuben High School and a good friend at Washburn Elementary School in Winnetka.

Tom’s success as a tutor was immediate. He quickly built up a long list of pupils who valued his expertise and could afford his hourly rate. Tom told me this newest career choice came close to matching is income as a principal at Arthur Anderson. It also had the advantage of flexible hours, summers off and working from home long before the rest of us figured out that this was an option in the wake of the global pandemic.

Of course, the one big downside to working weekends and evenings was that Tom could rarely join his RPBG friends and associates at our monthly meetings which usually conflicted with his teaching schedule which was dominated by evening and weekend appointments. But this did not stop Tom from continuing his duties as Treasurer, which he had taken on almost as soon as RPBG came into existence and which Tom was happy to continue to perform for the group.

Throughout the years, Tom and Peggy also established their presence in the Rogers Park neighborhood and, particularly, on Eastlake Terrace. Tom and Peggy bought their jumbo, 1915 vintage 3-flat in 1986 after a few years of condo living in other areas of the neighborhood. The location of the house just steps from Lake Michigan was made-to-order for Tom who took full advantage of the swimming, boating and kayaking opportunities at his doorstep.

Tom and Peggy gradually rehabbed and restored their property to its former glory and created their own small community with the other tenants and neighbors on Eastlake. Today, the building is fully paid off and Eastlake has never looked better. This is due, in no small part, to the efforts of Tom and other stakeholders who lived and worked on that amazing stretch of road – Rogers Park’s own little Riviera.

A lot has changed for Tom over the past couple of years with retirement, his Parkinson’s diagnosis and the loss of his wife. While these events have been tumultuous, Tom doesn’t want anyone feeling sorry for him. He still loves his life in Rogers Park, being close to Lake Michigan, his son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren and the many friends and neighbors he has made throughout the years.

And, of course, Tom remains active with RPBG, an organization he was instrumental in getting started, and a place where he still has many friends and admirers.

So, if you are one of the RPBG members who did not get a change to know Tom during his years as a math tutor, it’s not too late. Tom is yet another great example of the incredible caliber of people we have in our organization with rich and amazing lives beyond their real estate careers.

And, now that Tom is not tutoring anymore, we might all have a better chance to catch up with him at future meetings. If you see him, say hello. He might just invite you to come kayaking on Lake Michigan or canoeing at his Wisconsin cabin on the Wisconsin River. Who would want to miss out on an opportunity like that?




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