Ralph Campagna, 2016 Betsy Plank Honoree

Ralph Campagna Bio

Highly regarded for his extraordinary dedication to young people in need, Ralph Campagna has devoted more than 50 years of service to the Off The Street Club on Chicago’s West Side, providing leadership as its Executive Director since 1981, and helping to improve the lives of thousands of children and teenagers, ages four to eighteen. His life and career have been focused on Chicago’s oldest club for needy boys and girls, founded in 1900 by Brother John McMurry, as the first Club of its kind for inner city kids. Mr. Campagna has generously invested his time and energy into strengthening the Club for thousands of young people who enjoy a safe place to do homework, play video games and participate in activities, such as dance, arts and crafts, roller skating, woodshop, theatre performance and more, while being protected from street gangs.

Ralph very capably leads a talented and dedicated team of professionals and volunteers who mentor, teach, inspire and provide effective role models to children and young people. Motivated by a deep respect and belief in the future of the community’s children, as well as a personal calling to provide vital growth opportunities to those in difficult situations, Ralph Campagna serves as a mentor, friend and father-figure to many in Chicago’s troubled West Garfield neighborhood and beyond. His goal is for these children to experience “casual joy,” the opportunity to enjoy simple moments in childhood that most people take for granted.

Mr. Campagna grew up on Chicago’s West Side where he started going to the Off The Street Club when he was a child. A graduate of St. Mel High School, which was sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers who also sponsor Lewis University, Ralph earned Bachelor’s degrees in Speech and Education at Northeastern Illinois University. As a college student, he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. After graduation, he taught in Chicago for a number of years, while also visiting the Off The Street Club after school each day to volunteer. Ultimately, his dedication resulted in the Club becoming his life’s work. Ralph first received an offer to join the Club’s staff in 1961.ln 1977, he accepted an invitation to participate on the Club’s Board of Directors, and later he became the first Club member in history to work his way up the ranks from member to director.

During his lengthy history of highly distinguished service, Ralph Campagna has overseen major renovations at both the inner-city Clubhouse as well as the 30-acre resident Camp outside

the City. During the Club’s 100th Anniversary in 2000, he cut the ribbon for a very impressive new building across the street from the Clubhouse which more than doubled program possibilities for at-risk children. The two buildings are now linked by a bridge over the street which is called “the bridge that love built:’ In addition, Ralph experienced the fulfillment of another long-held dream with the completion of a new swimming pool complex, complete with water slides at Camp Mathieu, the Club’s summer camp in Wheaton.

Mr. Campagna’s wholehearted commitment to his community and to Chicago youth in need has received widespread recognition. United States President Ronald Reagan recognized Ralph with these words: “You truly stand for what is right and best in America, and you set an example, not only for Chicago, but for all mankind:’ Newsweek named Ralph one of 50 Unsung Heroes in the United States in 1988, and he has been honored for his all- embracing community involvement by the Chicago Father’s Day Committee, which named him Father of the Year in 1993.

Illinois Governor Jim Edgar acknowledged Ralph in 2003 as “an invaluable asset to the children of Illinois;’ while the Chicago Commission on Human Relations bestowed its Brotherhood Award to Ralph for his work in promoting diversity and racial harmony in 1985. The Off The Street Club’s Board of Directors, staff, benefactors and children presented the Club’s highest honor to Ralph when they chose in 2000 to name its new activity center in his honor as “The Campagna Center For Children:’

Ralph states that his life has been greatly enriched by his adopted son, Cass, whose two lovely children bring him much joy. He also says that he feels a strong sense of pride in Arnett Morris, who is currently the Associate Director of Off The Street Club. Steadfast in his dedication to the children and teenagers whom he educates and serves, Ralph Campagna demonstrates an exemplary respect for the equal dignity of every person and an exceptional focus on education, mutual respect, collegiality and service.

In 2014, Ralph received an Honorary Doctor of Humanities Degree from Lewis University.

Ralph often remarks that his most cherished honor will always be “winning a place in the hearts of so many truly wonderful children.”

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