Eileen R. Mackevich, a lifelong champion of public participation in the arts and humanities, passed away in Chicago on March 14, 2022. During her remarkable career she touched thousands of lives with her unique ability to connect people, ideas, and cultures in enlightening, sometimes surprising programs, at minimal or no cost for entry. An optimist, she believed in the civic importance of bringing people together across differences to share their views and experience.
When the world offered itself to her imagination (when the world beckoned), Eileen didn’t hesitate. A true wayfarer, she sought out the crosscurrents and the joy of discovery. She shared this love of travel, fueled by an interest in a wider world, with her children and grandchildren. She read voraciously- books, newspapers, essays, librettos. She loved opera– the music, the emotion, the spectacle. She was a passionate collector-- of early American furniture, Turkish carpets, and even of ancestor paintings (not hers), handsome or homely, to hang on the scarlet walls. She had an uncanny way of putting things (and people) together, not just in her home (décor) but in the inventive programming that became her signature. Some say she had a gift for making things magical.
In sum, she believed in the transformative power of education in all its forms, to be always learning. Born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania on May 18, 1939 to Dorothy and Harry Rosenblum, she attended public schools in Philadelphia. She graduated in 1960 from the University of Pennsylvania with Mortar Board and Phi Beta Kappa honors, the first of many recognitions.
She earned a Master’s Degree from Northeastern University and lectured in British history at the University of Illinois while her two young daughters were in school. As a broadcast radio journalist and talk-show host for 18 years, she took listeners inside world news for conversations that addressed international and cultural issues for Chicago’s NPR affiliate.
Eileen co-founded the Chicago Humanities Festival and was credited with transforming a modest event into a celebrated world attraction. During her 15-year tenure as its President and Executive Producer, CHF grew from a one-day symposium at the Art Institute in November to a city-wide, year-round suite of increasingly popular (free or minimal cost) programs that brought hundreds of world-class cultural figures -- authors, actors, scholars, provocateurs- to Chicago.
Subsequently, Eileen moved to Washington D.C. to serve as Executive Director of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, established by a Joint Resolution of Congress, and later back to Illinois when she was appointed by its Governor to be the Executive Director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. In both roles, she was charged with increasing broad public knowledge and awareness of Lincoln’s importance to America and the world through the imaginative public programming and collaborations for which she was known.
Eileen lived vividly and on her own terms. Her many honors confirm the breadth and impact of her contributions. The Queen of England appointed her to the Member of the British Empire. Dominican University and Lincoln College awarded her Honorary Doctorate Degrees, and Carthage College awarded her an Honorary Lectureship in the Humanities. The Chicago Tribune twice awarded her for distinction in the arts. Eileen’s accomplishments were also recognized by the Chicago Human Relations Commission, N’DIGO Foundation, the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, the Consul General of India, and the Chicago Sun-Times.
All those who knew Eileen and her work have been able to glimpse a wider world through her eyes and to share with her, if only briefly, an oasis where the trade routes --of people, cultures, and ideas—may cross. Eileen will be remembered, missed, loved, and admired by family, friends, and Chicagoans as well as countless others around the world who had been encouraged by her vision and irrepressible spirit. Her glass was never just full, it was always brimming with possibility.
She is survived by her sister, Gail (William) Sherman, two daughters, Dorothy Mackevich (Peter) Marks and Elise Mackevich (Frederic) Salchli, and by her four grandchildren Shelby (Navi) Marks, Samantha Marks, Candida Salchli, and Margaret ‘Daisy’ Salchli.
Donations in her honor may be made to: The University of Pennsylvania, The Balzekas Museum, or USA for UNHCR. Or simply be adventurous by trying something new in her honor.