Back in the 1980s I thought I was the luckiest kid on earth when I was admitted to Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. As the Northwest Side son of a cop and a teacher, I was going to show everyone I deserved to be there. Someday I would be a successful journalist — maybe even one like one of my heroes, fellow Northwestern alum Rick Telander.
In my first big Chicago news job I earned $12 an hour and I thought I hit an oil well. But as flush as I felt, I could only hope someday I’d be as big as Rick. He wrote for Sports Illustrated. He wrote books. His books were turned into movies. He was so big that he bought a house in Lake Forest.
In the same era, my friends and clients the Ricketts siblings were coming to Chicago, also to attend college. Growing up in Omaha, their father Joe had the idea to start his own brokerage. The whole family pitched in, sitting at the kitchen table stuffing envelopes with mailers promoting the new business.
When they came to University of Chicago and Loyola University, the Ricketts kids fell in love with the Chicago Cubs. They became bleacher bums. As they started their careers, the idea of earning enough money to buy their favorite team was unfathomable.
In the late 1990s, after many years of Joe and Marlene and the family’s hard work, and after the Ricketts siblings entered adulthood, Ameritrade went public. The company founded on the notion of making investing accessible to average Americans created great wealth for the family. They have shared their success with their childhood friends, with the friends they made in Chicago and eventually with millions of Cubs fans.
Instead of celebrating this American success story on July 4th, Rick chose to ridicule this family as F. Scott Fitzgerald characters in his column headlined “Life’s a Beach and Beachfront Property for the Super Rich Ricketts Family.”
The Ricketts have lived up to every promise they made to this city — be a good neighbor; preserve Wrigley Field, and win a World Series. The former bleacher bums risked family wealth on a baseball team that had not won a World Series since 1908.
Wrigley Field was in sorry shape. It would have been an easy economic choice to build a new stadium or move, or both. But the Ricketts chose to invest $750 million private dollars to preserve Wrigley Field.
This past spring, several hundred of the nearly 5,500 union men and women who have helped rebuild and expand Wrigley Field celebrated at the park with Tom Ricketts. Those hard-working men and women have so far earned more than $346 million in wages preserving and expanding iconic Wrigley.
The Ricketts family has helped raise tens of millions of dollars for charity, they’ve stayed in touch with Cubs fans every step along the way as they’ve taken them on the extraordinary journey to build a championship team. And yes, they live in nice houses.
Telander sold his five-bedroom, 4.5 bath Lake Forest home for a reported $1.055 million in 2015. Tom Ricketts, who worked at an Omaha Burger King in High School for spending money, and his siblings who had paper routes, wish Rick the best as he lives out his own version of the American dream.
Dennis Culloton is a consultant to the Ricketts family and CEO of a Chicago communications firm.