Jerry Springer’s softer side — helping children with disabilities in Evanston

Katie Springer, the talk show host’s daughter, began volunteering at Park School in Evanston in 1997. “Because it was so important to Katie, it was so important to him,” said Brenda Hadden, a teacher at Park School and longtime friend of Katie Springer’s.

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Jerry Springer at a restaurant in Stamford, Conn., on Aug. 7, 2009.

Jerry Springer, who died April 27 at 79, was known for his rowdy talk show where guests would often duke it out on TV. “The Jerry Springer Show” was filmed in Chicago for much of its 27-year run.

AP file

Jerry Springer was best known for his 27-year stint as host of a rowdy talk show featuring racy topics, profanity-laden arguments and all-out physical fights.

But Springer, who died last week at age 79, had a softer side, especially when it came to his daughter, Katie, and a school in Evanston where she volunteered.

The public caught a glimpse of the TV personality’s relationship with his daughter in 2006 when he competed on “Dancing with the Stars.” He and his dance partner, Kym Johnson, choreographed a father-daughter dance for Katie’s wedding, and they dedicated a dance on the show to her.

Jerry Springer’s devotion to his daughter went beyond just that dance.

Katie Springer began volunteering in 1997 at Park School, a public school in Evanston for students with disabilities, when her friend Brenda Hadden became a teacher there.

“When I graduated, I got a job here at Park School, and she would come every Friday,” Hadden said of Katie Springer. “She just fell in love with the school.”

A blue, red, yellow and white sign in front of Park School at 828 Main St. in Evanston bears the name of the school and the school’s logo.

Park School, 828 Main St., in Evanston is a public school for students with disabilities. Katie Springer, the daughter of TV personality Jerry Springer, volunteered at the school for many years.

Catherine Odom/Sun-Times

She volunteered at Park School for over two decades, Hadden said. Katie Springer has disabilities herself, and Hadden said because of that, volunteering at Park School was “super fulfilling” for her.

Hadden became friends with Katie Springer through a mentorship program at Barat College in Lake Forest, where they both attended. She said Katie Springer became like a “little sister,” and they remained close.

Jerry Springer came to Park School to see his daughter or pick her up after her volunteer shifts “many times,” Hadden said.

“He would come into classrooms and engage with students” and often attended school celebrations and events, she said.

Jerry Springer’s personality was different from his on-screen persona, Hadden added.

“I don’t think people would think this, but he really was just such a modest, kind of shy guy,” she said.

Talk show host Jerry Springer rehearses dance steps with partner Kym Johnson at a dance studio in Chicago on Aug. 25, 2006, as he prepares for his appearance on the celebrity competition show “Dancing with the Stars.”

Jerry Springer competed on season three of “Dancing with the Stars” in 2006. He’s shown here with dance partner Kym Johnson (now Kym Herjavec). The pair choreographed a father-daughter dance for Springer’s daughter’s wedding.

AP file

During his show’s heyday in the late 1990s, Hadden said Jerry Springer brought his TV crew to Park School to film a promotional video for the school. And in 2007, he donated over $200,000 to build a multisensory enrichment space for students.

“Because it was so important to Katie, it was so important to him,” Hadden said. “He just was so generous and very selfless and really a gentleman.”

Katie Springer declined to be interviewed but supported Hadden speaking with the Chicago Sun-Times about her father’s philanthropy.

Springer gave ‘powerful’ speech at accessible playground fundraiser

David Cutter and his wife, Julie, met Jerry Springer while they were raising money to build Noah’s Playground for Everyone in Evanston. The playground, which was completed in 2008, was built in memory of their son Noah, who was disabled and died when he was 2 years old.

Cutter said the playground was one of the first in the area to be fully accessible, meaning children of all abilities can use all the equipment.

Jerry Springer was the auctioneer and speaker at a fundraising event for the playground. Cutter said he was skeptical at first because of Jerry Springer’s reputation but was surprised by his “incredibly powerful” speech. Jerry Springer also contributed four backstage passes for his show to the auction.

Noah’s Playground for Everyone, located near Lighthouse Beach in north Evanston, features wheelchair-accessible ramps and other accommodations to make the playground’s equipment accessible for all.

Noah’s Playground for Everyone, near Lighthouse Beach in north Evanston, features wheelchair-accessible ramps and other accommodations to make the playground’s equipment “equally usable for all abilities,” said David Cutter. The playground is named for Cutter’s son, Noah, who died at age 2.

Catherine Odom/Sun-Times

“He was very understanding of why this was important to us and why this was important for the community,” Cutter said, calling Springer “warm and supportive.”

The event at which Jerry Springer spoke was hosted by the Woman’s Club of Evanston in spring 2008, said Mimi Roeder, who was president of the organization that year. She said the benefit helped raise about $100,000 for Noah’s Playground. The playground, near Lighthouse Beach in Evanston, cost about $850,000, Cutter said.

Roeder, a longtime Evanston resident, said the Woman’s Club reached out to Jerry Springer because of his and Katie’s involvement with Park School. She said the organization was “honored” to have him there.

“He always seemed so bombastic on TV,” Roeder said. “But in person, he was actually genuinely quite a nice man.”

Cutter and his wife were “saddened” to hear of Jerry Springer’s death. Hadden called the news “devastating.”

“My first reaction when I hear the name Jerry Springer is probably not what most other people have,” Cutter said. “What a wonderful, graceful, powerful, empathetic man he was.”

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