Alumni News
A Gentle NUDG
The John Evans Club

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Regional Clubs
Special-Interest Clubs

Professional Schools

Kellogg Graduate
  School of Management
School of Law
Medical School


Robert Malmstrom (UC60)
Eva Jefferson Paterson (WCAS71)
Ashok Bansal (G77)
Gary Leff (KGSM92)


Travel Essay
Travel Calendar

From left, Sharon Cohen (S82, GJ84), president of the NU Club of Los Angeles; Jane Dean (WCAS96), chair of the Los Angeles NUest Decade of Grads; Joe Labritz (S79), former co-chair of the Northwestern University Entertainment Alliance/West; and Heidi Heller (S97), co-chair of the Northwestern University Entertainment Alliance/West

(Photo by Peggy Parsons)

Taking the Show on the Road

For the first time, the NAA Executive Committee convened outside Northwestern, meeting in California.

Go west, Northwestern Alumni Association. And east. And north. And south.

The NAA board is committed to making the association and its representative board truly national in scope and profile. Accordingly, the 18 members of the NAA Executive Committee, made up of board officers and chairs of standing committees, held their first-ever meeting away from campus Feb. 18 in Newport Beach, Calif.

"It was a sincere demonstration that the NAA board is trying to reach out on a national and even an international basis," said Marshall Grossman (WCAS70), Executive Committee board secretary and a Newport Beach resident. "It was intense, so everyone was really focused. We all benefited, including our committee."

As further evidence of the NAA's commitment to national outreach, the Executive Committee turned the second day of its meeting into a West Coast Leadership Conference. The committee based the event on the model of the national Alumni Leadership Conference held each fall on the Evanston campus.

The 40 guests included alumni regents from California; NU club leaders from that state, Nevada and Arizona; Los Angeles representatives of the NUest Decade of Graduates; presidents of California-based Kellogg and Medill clubs; representatives from the Northwestern University Entertainment Alliance/West; and members of the Alumni Admission Councils from all the Western states.

"They were there to dialogue with the board so we can tailor future programs that address their needs. It gave us a great chance to develop ideas from outside the Chicago area," said Grossman. "I know I took a lot away with me."

At the morning roundtable, brainstorming took place over such issues as increasing cooperation between constituent organizations in the same region; ways for the University's Department of Alumni Relations to facilitate that cooperation; use of new technologies, such as the Internet; planning for leadership succession; effective membership surveys; and, of course, success stories about individual programs.

After those sessions, Lee Harlan, a professional facilitator who is director emeritus of alumni relations at Pomona College in nearby Claremont, led an interactive discussion to integrate the many thoughts and ideas expressed earlier in the day. He challenged audience members to boost their marketing campaigns and strive for greater diversity in their membership.

"Much of what was said were things we've known instinctively, but having an outside person come in and help us systematize our thoughts validated it for us all," said Catherine Stembridge, director of Alumni Relations.

One useful point the Executive Committee and the Alumni Relations staff took from the discussion was that different regions may have different concerns. "In Southern California, the hugeness of the area makes simple transportation logistics a problem," Stembridge said. "In Minnesota, the weather is more of a factor. It's important for the board and for us to deal with each area individually."

Judging by input from the group, the meeting was a huge success. A sampling: "I liked the interaction with regional NU alumni in various alumni roles," "I think it was a good mix of time for working and time for meeting with new people and old friends," and "Superb. I had not expected such a useful session with the regional leaders."

So will there be other NAA-sponsored meetings in other parts of the country? "You bet!" Stembridge said. "There's so much talent out there, and it would be a huge loss not to take advantage of it."

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These 1999 seniors are the NUest members of NUDG.

(Photo by Steve Schryver)

A Gentle NUDG
The NUest Decade of Grads keeps the enthusiasm going — and does some good along the way.
The 25 girls and boys from Chicago's Off the Street Club were thrilled to meet Northwestern men's basketball coach Kevin O'Neill and sat raptly as he emphasized the importance of working hard in school, "especially in those classes that you hate the very most. ... Those are the ones that will make you better."

Fresh from seeing the Wildcat cagers beat Rice, the children were bubbling with enthusiasm, which rubbed off on the members of the NUest Decade of Grads (NUDG), who had invited them to the game. "They're neat kids," said Matt Foley (SESP94). "Some had returned from the year before, and we had warm interactions, big hugs and that sort of thing."

Such outings for NUDG are not uncommon. "We have tried to move beyond the typical bar night event," said Steven Schryver (WCAS91), director of student and young alumni programming in the Department of Alumni Relations. "We hope to provide young alumni with greater opportunities to socialize, certainly, but also to travel, perform community service and continue their educations while recognizing the time and financial constraints most of them face."

When NUDG began in Chicago in 1996, word about planned events was spread through massive mailings and over the Internet, this generation's preferred mode of communication. "It required a lot of effort, but two things that made it a lot easier were the Internet for posting events and e-mail for keeping in touch," said Tom Smith (S93, GJ95), who was involved in the early efforts in Chicago and, after moving to Atlanta, has worked to establish a NUDG beachhead there.

Today, NUDG has chapters in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York City, Orange County, Calif., the San Francisco Bay area and Seattle.

Past events in Chicago have spanned a broad range of interests — from annual participation at the Chicago Cares Servathon to a poetry reading at the Green Mill Lounge on the North Side.

NUDG also organizes outdoor travel events: The Chicago and Boston chapters have held weekend ski getaways, and several chapters plan to organize a hiking and climbing trip in the Cascades northeast of Seattle.

In addition, Chicago's NUDG chapter participates in the Northwestern Externship program (NEXT), sponsored by the Student Alumni Association, in which undergraduates spend one to three days shadowing alumni at their jobs.

JoDee George, a sophomore who is considering law school, accompanied John Kezdy (WCAS88), a lawyer in the Illinois Attorney General's Office. "It was the first time I had had a chance to be in a real-life courtroom and see how it works," she said.

NEXT will go national this fall with the participation of other NUDG chapters.

Future goals include working with the Sesquicentennial office on 150th-year activities, organizing events for two or three chapters from different cities and planning events with young alumni groups from different universities.

"Young alumni have the enthusiasm of having recently been college students," Schryver said. "They've been involved with their fraternities and sororities, Dance Marathon, Special Olympics and other events. Now that they've graduated, there is a void where those extracurricular activities used to be. Through a variety of events and activities, we strive to fill that void." (NUDG)

— Kim O'Brien (S00)

At the Field Museum, from left, art professor Ed Paschke; trustee Judy Stofer Block (S63); Christine Olson Robb (WCAS66), current chair of the John Evans Club; and museum president John McCarter Jr.

(Photo by Mary Hanlon)
The John Evans Club: 45 Years of Giving and Receiving

Think of almost any Northwestern building constructed in the last several decades — the Norris University Center, the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion, the Searle Research Medical Building, to name just three — and consider that, without the generous members of the John Evans Club, it probably would not have been built.

Since the club's founding in December 1954, its members have given more than $500 million to the University. In addition to soliciting funds for capital improvements, the organization has endowed professorships and scholarships, sponsored research and athletic endeavors, helped establish innovative academic programs and augmented library collections. "It's gone so much further than my husband [Carl Johnson] and everyone else dreamed it would," said Dorothy Johnson (Mu29), honorary co-chair of the 45th anniversary celebration.

Actually, the club's start dates back to 1951, during the University's Centennial festivities. Harold Smith (L21), then president of the Northwestern Alumni Association, asked three other longtime supporters —Thomas Hayward Sr. (CB24), Carl Johnson (EB24) and George Teuscher (D29, GD36, GSESP40, 42) — to join him on a committee to create a minimum gift club.

They laid a solid foundation, and the organization — named after a Northwestern founder whose $1,000 contribution was a first payment on the land that became the Evanston campus — was officially established in 1954. "There are probably only a few other alumni groups in the country that have approached the John Evans Club's success," said Teuscher, the other honorary co-chair of the celebration.

Every May, for as long as anyone can remember, the club has held a black-tie dinner before the Waa-Mu Show's premiere (this spring's presentation was Past Perfect, Future Tense). Usually a separate event is planned for significant anniversaries, but this year the group's leadership felt that combining the warmth and camaraderie of the Waa-Mu dinners and the 45th birthday would be an excellent way to mark the milestone.

Attendance at this May celebration was 25 percent higher than in the past, a goal set by the club early in the year, according to Thomas Hayward Jr. (WCAS62, L65), a former club chair and currently a member of the University's Board of Trustees. For him and his wife, Sally (WCAS61), the Waa-Mu festivities are particularly special. "Sally danced in the show all four years," he explained.

Membership requirements for the club, which boasts a roster of more than 2,000, include a contribution of $30,000 over 10 years or a deferred donation or bequest of at least $120,000. No matter what form the gifts take, members are still urged to make annual contributions. "You have to do so on a regular basis," Teuscher said. "If people aren't reminded, they often will forget to do it."

This year, the goal is 100 percent participation in Campaign Northwestern, and the club's leaders report the members are well on the way to achieving the objective.

To be sure, though, the John Evans Club is not just about raising money. Members have always known how to have a good time with good friends. Among the favorite activities are faculty firesides in members' homes, on-campus lectures and off-campus cultural evenings.

Although she doesn't get out quite as much these days as in the past, Dorothy Johnson loves the get-togethers. "They offer a nice variety," she said, "and they're very well done."

All club events are designed to showcase some aspect of Northwestern — its faculty, students, alumni and facilities. "They're good opportunities to recognize individuals who make significant contributions," Hayward said.

As for the other type of contributions, he and the other members feel they have received as much as they give. "A lot of good things happened to me at Northwestern," said Hayward. "I got a great education, I met my wife, and my children attended, too. This is my way of saying thank you." (John Evans Club)

Conductor Pete Nowlen, third from left, in Sacramento with, from left, Sacramento club president Tom Kindle (WCAS92); Nowlen's friend David Martin; Deborah Pittman, who wrote the story line of the piece Nowlen conducted; club vice president Laurel Weeks (S71, GS77); and club board member Aimee McCord (McC93)



Club News
Regional Club News
NU Club of Chicago members have been all over the map lately. They've explored the past at the Chicago Historical Society, volunteered at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, enjoyed a night of music with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and canoed in a downstate Illinois stream.

The NU Club of Cincinnati held a wine-tasting party in April at the Mushroom Wine Shop. And members of the NU Club of Coachella Valley, Calif., went to the theater to enjoy The Odd Couple in the spring. Members of the NU Club of Milwaukee were theater-goers as well, journeying to Evanston for the 2000 Waa-Mu Show.

The NU Club of Greater New York started 2000 with a bang in January, hosting David Zarefsky (S68, GS69, GS74), dean of the School of Speech, who discussed campaign discourse in the modern political arena.

Members of the NU Club of Orlando, Fla., hooked up with alumni in Jacksonville, Fla., in February to cheer on the hot Wildcat men's golf team at the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate tournament in Ponte Verde, Fla.

The NU Club of Sacramento, Calif., hosted Pete Nowlen (Mu84), who conducted the symphony orchestra of California State University, Sacramento, in April. The NU Club of Tucson saw the Chicago White Sox take on the Colorado Rockies in a spring training game.

In March NU Club of Washington, D.C. members saw the treasures of Topkapi at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. In April, for the fifth consecutive year, they rehabbed a house as their Christmas in April project.


Special-Interest Clubs
John Evans Club members have been getting the inside info lately, first from men's head basketball coach Kevin O'Neill and then from Ron Nayler, associate vice president of facilities management. Before the contest against Illinois, O'Neill broke bread with about 100 club members and shared his insights about basketball, the Wildcats and the game ahead for him and the club members.

Not long afterward, nearly 75 gathered at the John Evans Center to hear Nayler. With the aid of architectural renderings and models, he discussed the multimillion-dollar building program that is transforming the Chicago and Evanston campuses.

Jack Doppelt, associate dean, and Ellen Shearer, associate professor and co-director of the Medill News Service in Washington, D.C., spoke at the Medill Club of New England's annual party in April in Boston. Doppelt and Shearer are co-authors of Nonvoters: America's No-Shows.

More than 30 Medill Club of San Francisco members and guests braved cold, rainy weather to pay tribute last fall to three Bay Area journalists: author Po Bronson, KTVU-TV reporter Faith Fancher and KGO-FM's Jim Dunbar.

In the fall, entertainment attorney Peter Nichols (S78, G78) received the second annual Excellence Award from the Northwestern University Entertainment Alliance/West. Nichols, a partner in the law firm of Lichter, Grossman, Nichols & Adler, has returned to Northwestern for two quarters to teach the Business of Entertainment, a course in the Department of Communication Studies.

From left, Kellogg award winners Tod Francis, William Mauritz, Geraldine Alexis and Robert Knuepfer

Professional Schools
Kellogg Graduate School of Management
At February's Kellogg Alumni Awards ceremony, Geraldine M. Alexis (KGSM76, L76) and William W. Mauritz (KGSM59) received Schaffner Awards, established in 1984 for service to Kellogg. Tod Francis (WCAS81, KGSM83) and Robert C. Knuepfer Jr. (KGSM77, L78) were presented with this year's Alumni Service Awards for promoting Kellogg throughout the world.

Since 1983 Alexis has been a partner in the Chicago law firm of Sidley & Austin, where she specializes in antitrust counseling and litigation. Past immediate president of the Law Club of Chicago, she is the author of numerous publications in the antitrust area. Alexis is a member of the Kellogg Alumni Advisory Board and has served as a mentor for women students at the school.

Mauritz is managing director of William W. Mauritz and Associates, a management consulting firm that specializes in executive searches. He established his own firm in 1990 after decades as a consultant and human resources executive with major companies. Mauritz is a life member of the Kellogg advisory board and director and former president of the McGraw Foundation, a charitable trust in Northbrook, Ill.

Francis is a general partner at Trinity Ventures, a Menlo Park, Calif., venture capital firm with more than $600 million in committed capital. He focuses on early-stage companies in consumer e-commerce space. A Kellogg advisory board member, Francis frequently lectures before Kellogg's Entrepreneurship Venture Capital Club and hosts students posted to Silicon Valley for the Kellogg TechVentures course.

Knuepfer is an international partner with the Chicago law firm of Baker & McKenzie, specializing in mergers and acquisitions. While heading Baker's Central European operations, he was a visiting professor at Budapest University and Central European University. Knuepfer is a member of the Kellogg advisory board, chairs the Globalization Committee and has taught Kellogg's Project Finance in Emerging Markets course for three years.

School of Law
In April, professor Clinton Francis began moderating the School of Law's first interactive online salon for alumni, called A Critique of Property in the Information Age. During the seven-week session, participants discussed the viability of the concept of property, particularly as it pertains to information technologies and capital investment.

Also, more than 300 Chicago-area law school alumni and members of the Kellogg Alumni Club of Chicago joined forces last fall for a complimentary screening of the edge-of-your-seat IMAX thrill ride movie, Extreme Sports, at Navy Pier.

Medical School
Working from a phone bank in Lake Shore Center in January, 23 medical students made calls across the country to Northwestern medical school alumni, raising more than $95,000 for alumni and student programs in the process.

"The students made great connections this year," says Ginny Darakjian, assistant dean for alumni relations. "Compared with last year, there were also higher totals of pledges obtained by each caller."

In February about 150 family members and friends of second-year medical students braved frightful weather for a ringside seat at this year's Family Day, organized by the students themselves and funded by the Student Affairs Office.

Participants got to diagnose mock cases, attend lectures, tour the new hospital pavilion and, yes, test their fortitude at the anatomy lab.

Robert Malmstrom

(Photo by Bill Reinert)


On a Wing and a Prayer
Robert Malmstrom (UC60), a flying enthusiast, helps people in isolated areas to get medical treatment.
From his earliest days, Robert Malmstrom (UC60) has been drawn to the skies. It must run in his family — Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Mont., was named after his father's cousin, a legendary aviator.

Malmstrom, who lives in Portland, Ore., has launched a program of "hamlet hopping" to promote Angel Flight in eastern Oregon, which is part of his territory. Angel Flight is a nonprofit organization of hundreds of pilots who volunteer their time and aircraft to fly seriously ill patients in the remote areas of 11 Western states to distant medical appointments.

The plight of one small-town woman who developed breast cancer a couple of years ago sticks in Malmstrom's mind. "The family didn't even have a telephone," he relates. "Our pilot had to call a relative to get in touch."

In the beginning, she rode the bus twice, 285 miles each way, for her treatment in Portland; the third time, a sympathetic nurse paid her airfare. Then, the patient discovered Angel Flight. "We've helped her out at least 10 times in each direction," Malmstrom says with satisfaction in his voice.

One would think that offering such a service — for free — would have patients beating down the doors of Angel Flight. But locating those in need has proven a lot more challenging than recruiting pilots willing to fly them. "Pilots are eager to fly these missions," says Malmstrom. "We just have to get word out to folks that we're available."

So Malmstrom, a non-flying volunteer for Angel Flight who retired from the business world in 1991, flew recently with a retired U.S. Navy flight surgeon to a half-dozen isolated Oregon towns to meet with doctors, nurses and social workers.

During World War II, Malmstrom, eager to earn his wings, enlisted as an Army Air Corps aviation cadet. But with the tide turning for the Allies, the need for pilots diminished, and the Air Corps discontinued its flight training program before he was called to active duty. While in business with his father, Malmstrom learned to fly, eventually buying an airplane with a childhood buddy. Later, he made a living selling Cessna aircraft in Ann Arbor, Mich., and in his native Chicago.

In 1967, Malmstrom moved to Portland to sell corporate aircraft and to fly as a corporate pilot. He eventually landed at Columbia Helicopters, based in Aurora, Ore., as an international marketing representative. The position took him to 65 countries.

At Columbia, it was Malmstrom's job to demonstrate to prospective clients around the world how the company's giant birds could be used in industrial operations, supplying and supporting offshore drilling vessels and airlifting oil-drilling rigs to isolated locations.

Two years ago Malmstrom started the Oregon Old Bold Pilots. It's an informal group of fliers from the Portland area who gather for lunch once a month to swap tales about adventures old and new.

Flying is an expensive a hobby, so Malmstrom grounded himself several years ago. "I haven't flown for a long time, but I've always enjoyed being with pilots," he says. "Flying is something you just never get out of your blood."

For him, Angel Flight is a godsend. It allows him to stay active with an airborne endeavor and to help others. "At Angel Flight, we provide transportation that cares!" he says.

— Bill Reinert

Eva Jefferson Paterson

Leading the Charge for Change
Eva Jefferson Paterson (WCAS71), a voice of reason in a troubled time, remains a committed social activist.
"And the answer is, the Midwestern school where Eva Jefferson is a student."

"What is Northwestern University?"

Nearly 30 years have passed since former Jeopardy game show host Art Fleming read her name aloud on national television, but the actions that earned Eva Jefferson Paterson (WCAS71) her fame are still remembered by many on Northwestern's campus and beyond. A voice of reason during a time of political and social turmoil, Paterson helped keep the peace at Northwestern during the protests of May 1970.

Paterson took part in her first demonstration in 1968 as a freshman, when 124 students seized the Bursar's Office to protest what they claimed was unfair treatment of African Americans on campus. "I called my parents from the Bursar's Office and said, 'Hey, Mom and Dad, guess where I am?'" she recalls. "They were not amused."

Until the protest, Paterson admits, she had difficulty finding a niche on campus. "I was staggered by the wealth of the place," she says, "and the girls were all so perfect." After Paterson arrived at her room in Willard Hall for the first time, her white roommate took one look at her and spent the night in a hotel. "She saw my black face, and that was that," Paterson remembers. "She transferred to a single room down the hall."

After the takeover of the Bursar's Office, Paterson directed her energies toward student organizations and civil action, where her strengths as a leader and orator were quickly recognized. In April 1970 she was elected the first African American student body president.

One month after her victory Paterson led a crowd of nearly 6,000 University students in a peaceful strike over U.S. military actions in Cambodia and after the deaths of four Kent State University students in Ohio at the hands of National Guardsmen.

Violence was erupting on campuses all over the country, but Paterson protected Northwestern's ROTC building from torch-bearing students. Instead of preaching violence, she exhorted others to deliver their message by skipping classes, talking to Evanston residents about the war and barricading Sheridan Road.

During the next two years, Paterson put aside the life of a typical student to become something of a social ambassador of college activists. In September 1970 she was invited to debate vice president Spiro Agnew on the David Frost Show. Before long, Paterson's reputation as an eloquent and honest speaker earned her hundreds of requests for other engagements across the nation.

Indeed, she continues to lead a life of social activism. Paterson earned a law degree at the University of California, Berkeley, and currently serves as executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco. She has won numerous court cases for people of color and is co-founder of A Safe Place, a battered women's shelter in Oakland.

Despite a hectic schedule of meetings, interviews and speaking engagements — including one on Northwestern's campus to mark Martin Luther King's birthday this year — she still finds time for more relaxing activities. In May 1999 Paterson traveled to Florida with a small group of former Willardites to celebrate their 50th birthdays.

Her plans for the future include leaving her law career to start up a film production company, Joy and Magic, that will promote civil rights and other social issues. Paterson jokes about writing an autobiography someday, and, if she does, she already has a title — I Was a Question on Jeopardy.

—Kim O'Brien (S00)

Ashok Bansal

(Photo by Charles Barry)

'If a Train Leaves Albany at 8:42 ...'
Ashok Bansal (G77), an admitted math lover, created a Web site that helps children learn to solve math problems.
Those confounded, confusing story problems! The truth is that, even with computers, the combination of words and arithmetic concepts still makes story problems tough for many youngsters. However, today's children are lucky; they have the Web site of Ashok Bansal (G77) for help.

Granted, the site ( might not have a whole lot to do with his job as marketing professional with a high-tech company in Santa Clara, Calif., but in the short time the page has existed, it has helped thousands of children learn the fundamentals of numbers.

Bansal, who earned a master's degree in physics at Northwestern in 1977, has always had a passion for math. After his daughters started school, he decided to mesh his math and technology skills into a useful tool for them and others with the site, which focuses almost exclusively on story problems.

First- through eighth-graders who log on are asked to complete worksheets according to grade and topic that can be easily found with a search. Fun and topical, the Web site has something for every student — including math stories based on children's books, questions with sports, history or science themes and "magic" calculations. February, for example, offers special sections on African American history, Valentine's Day, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington ("If Martha baked 3 cherry pies for George a month, how many cherry pies would she bake in 12 months? 24 months? 10 years?").

The site only went public in March 1999, but it received more than 6 million hits in the first 10 months. "We're getting traffic from all over the country, from New York to Alaska to Atlanta, and even other parts of the world," Bansal says.

Closer to home, has also been a broadening experience for Bansal's daughters beyond the math. "A lot of teachers write to tell me that they don't have books in their classrooms," he says. "My children learned from reading e-mails generated by the Web site that they have a lot of educational resources that other children don't have."

One advantage from Bansal's perspective is that he doesn't have to leave his home to do the work. His wife and children are very understanding of the demands on his time (30 uncompensated hours a week), partly because they get to join in on the fun.

Parents are definitely pleased. "My 7-year-old second-grader loves the word problems, and I really appreciate your work in giving me the resources needed to keep her challenged beyond her schoolwork," wrote one. A fifth-grade teacher from California reported that after a few months of, her 11-year-old son zoomed from a fifth-grade to an eighth-grade arithmetic level.

Educational administrators praise the Web site, too. "Over the summer, several key teachers met to design a way to enhance computer use, particularly the Internet, in elementary and middle schools," said the New York City Board of Education in a letter to Bansal. "The entire group cheered your site. The content and organization of your self-contained site was perfect for our criteria."

Bansal is modest: His main goals are to keep easy to navigate and useful.

"The Web site is designed so that you can get to any place in two clicks," he says. "My rule of thumb is, parents shouldn't spend 40 minutes looking for a worksheet that only takes 10 minutes to complete."

— Sarah Bellows (J01)

Gary Leff


Stir Crazy after All These Years
Gary Leff (KGSM92) gets a big kick out of running a string of contemporary Asian eateries.
For Gary Leff (KGSM92), going stir crazy turned out to be an excellent idea.

In 1994 he had his degree from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management and two consulting jobs behind him, the most recent one with Bain and Co., a consulting firm specializing in corporate strategies. But Leff was getting bored with giving advice to other businesses and decided he was ready to strike out on his own.

So, at the age of 28, he began to research entrepreneurial possibilities, pushing himself to come up with ideas that were feasible, lucrative and enjoyable. "I always thought it would be fun to have my own restaurant," Leff says. As he dug further into the idea, the notion of capitalizing on a new, exciting dining concept kept popping up — contemporary Asian.

Leff was inspired by his travels in the Far East the summer before he entered business school and by the trend among Mexican and Italian restaurants toward bolder, more creative dining. "No one was doing anything fresh and fun in the Asian category for casual dining," he says. "The Asian segment was still very mom-and-pop."

Once he pinpointed a concept that seemed workable, the Akron, Ohio, native began networking with private individuals in Chicago to raise the capital for his business plan. About 20 investors provided the $2 million Leff needed to open the first Stir Crazy Cafe in an Oak Brook, Ill., shopping mall in 1995. Since then, Stir Crazy Enterprises has opened four other restaurants — two in malls in Northbrook and Woodfield, Ill., one in Auburn Hills, Mich., and, most recently, one in Boca Raton, Fla.

They've been successful because of Leff's commitment to offering an affordable dining experience that is entertaining and interactive. The restaurants' décor also reflects the Stir Crazy concept. "It's fresh, upbeat, contemporary casual with a splash of Asian," Leff says.

Stir Crazy's customers have the option of ordering off a traditional menu, which includes cuisine from China, Thailand, Japan and Vietnam, or choosing the market bar, which allows them to create their own stir-fry dish. Those who choose the latter option fill a bowl with a choice of fresh vegetables, top it off with one of 12 sauces and choose a noodle or rice and protein to be added by a Stir Crazy chef. The customer then can watch as the chef prepares his meal in an individual wok.

Often compared to Mongolian barbecues and flat-top grills, Stir Crazy Cafe gives customers more options, Leff explains. "We appeal to a broader audience," he says.

While the chefs behind the market bar are tossing veggies and such for customers' dishes, Leff is busy mixing things up behind the scenes. One of the most appealing aspects about being an entrepreneur is the constant challenge of having to juggle so many different elements of the restaurant business, from scouting new locations to setting them up, keeping them going — and making a profit.

"You need to have a ton of energy because of the amount of sheer work it takes to start a company and have it be successful," Leff says.

And his own energy doesn't stop with the restaurant business — Leff is an avid runner and skier whose passion for food extends beyond work. "Even though I'm in the restaurant industry, I still enjoy cooking," he says, although he admits that he usually makes Italian food when he's at home.

—AnnMarie Harris (J00)

From left, Susan Shields, Robert Shields, Jane Gram and Gordon Gram in the financial district of Hong Kong


Travel Essay
Express to the East
by Robert and Susan Shields
After our Northwestern Alumni Campus Abroad trip to France's Burgundy region in fall 1998, we knew it was never a question of if we would travel with Northwestern again, but where and when.

Those questions were answered when we received a brochure about a trip on the Eastern & Oriental Express train, with excursions to Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore. They were all cities we've wanted to see, and the idea of taking a luxury train clinched it.

In Hong Kong, we stayed at the elegant Grand Hyatt. On our first full day we took several tours of the area that fully informed us about the fascinating local culture and history. Evening ferry rides between the two principal commercial locations, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, were particularly colorful. To our good fortune, the buildings of the spectacular skyline were extravagantly decorated for the Chinese New Year. What a sight!

We also had an opportunity to see rural parts of the province and, more dramatically, to look across a no-man's-land to the mainland. On the other side of barbed wire fences, we were able to see a city of modern high-rise buildings that did not exist 10 years ago.

In contrast with westernized Hong Kong, Bangkok is full of local color. It's also loaded with about 10 million people. The Shangri-La Hotel on the Chao Praya River was the perfect respite from the heat, sounds and smells of this dynamic city. Seeing remarkable Thai temples and ornate palaces offered us cultural experiences on a grand scale. The human touch was provided by boat trips and by walking excursions among the street vendors, especially in the Pat Pong Night Market ("Hey mister, want to buy a copy Rolex?").

After three nights in Bangkok, we began our 1,260-mile trip on the Eastern & Oriental Express. The cars are quite lavish, finished with marquetry paneling inspired by the 1932 movie Shanghai Express.

Meals on board the train were an occasion. Breakfast was brought to the sleeping compartment, while lunch and dinner were served in the dining cars. Jackets and ties were required for the evening meal — some gentlemen wore tuxedos — and that was perfectly appropriate, given the elegance of the setting and service.

We reached Singapore in time for tours of local sites, including the Parliament building and the historical museum. A popular destination was the ornate Raffles Hotel, home of the original Singapore Sling. Some of us visited a Chinese antique dealer whose treasures rivaled those in a museum, while others went to other shops in Chinatown and Little India for great bargains on silk and batik clothing. Even those who didn't buy enjoyed other people's shopping "home runs."

At our farewell cocktail party on the last night, several of us were making plans for our next Northwestern Alumni trip. Let's see ... where and when?

Robert Shields (WCAS61) is a recently retired computer business owner. His wife, Susan, teaches Japanese in a private school. They live in South Bend, Ind.