Two members of the A Long Swim team have never been on a crew, or paddled a kayak, or have even been to one of our open water swims. And yet, their contributions are indispensable to the effort, as they show quite literally every day.
Bob Lee and Peter Yankala are Barrington guys. Actually, Peter lives in Chicago and reverse commutes to his business in Barrington, but they are fixtures here nonetheless.
One could accurately call Bob Lee a local philanthropist, but that wouldn’t fully describe the difference that Bob makes when he devotes some of his time, treasure and thoughts to a charity. Bob is 72 years old, and has the energy to run circles around volunteers half his age. He is the guy who writes checks to so many good causes, but then also arrives an hour early to the meeting, “just in case you maybe needed someone to set up the chairs or something.” He been Barrington’s Citizen of the Year once but he should really win that award every year.
One could accurately call Peter Yankala a really creative and generous guy. His blog Why I Like Chicago has taken the city by storm and the blog’s Facebook page is literally on fire. His blog and Facebook page are homes to his amazing photography created in Chicago from the balcony of his home “on the 64th floor.” He is always ready to chip in to help local organizations, to the point where Quintessential Barrington Magazine recently named him as its Quintessential Person for the summer issue. (You have to read this!) Peter is everywhere, knows everyone, and really has a knack for bringing creative ideas into reality.
Peter and Bob have played such essential roles with the A Long Swim team that they really need an introduction to the rest of the world.
Peter Yankala directing at the photo shoot where, dressed in a tux, I jumped in the lake.
Peter’s business is Phillips Men’s Wear, (www.PhillipsMensWear.com) which is the high-end men’s clothing store that so many towns had one or two generations ago. Unfortunately, most of the other stores like Phillips were casualties of big chain stores and clothing stores that specialize in inexpensive Chinese imports. Phillips has really bucked the trend by developing a highly dedicated clientele that have obviously become as much friends of the highly attentive staff as they are customers.
Peter has been a good friend of Bob’s for a long time, and Peter has wholeheartedly supported charitable work. He seems to have a special place in his heart, however, for ALS and the Les Turner Foundation. As a month-long lead-up to the annual Barrington Tag Day weekend for the Foundation, Peter had a donation bucket in front of the cash register in his store and managed to extract money from a large percentage of his customers. By the time Tag Days actually arrived, the bucket at Phillips had no less than $1,500 in it, including a number of $50 and $100 bills. Clearly, Peter is very persuasive.
So, along comes A Long Swim and the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. Peter and his colleagues at Phillips knew that the beneficiary was the Les Turner Foundation, and they turned their considerable creativity and ideas toward us. They have had banners about MIMS made that are in store windows all over town. They sent a hundred hand-written letters to top customers alerting them to A Long Swim, they are active on Facebook, and it sure seems to be working. The money is really rolling in.
A couple of weeks ago on a Friday, Susan told me about an idea she had heard from Peter.
Susan: “He wants to get some photographs of you swimming over at Lake Zurich, maybe diving off the pier or something.”
Me: “That’s fine, just send him over one of these mornings and he can take whatever pictures he wants.”
Susan: “He seems pretty eager to get going – do you think you could go over there late today?”
Me: “Yeah, probably. I still don’t see what the big deal is.”
Susan: “Oh, I forgot to mention, he wants you to wear a Phillips Men’s Wear tuxedo.”
And so, a few hours later, we found ourselves on our way over to Lake Zurich. I was in a tuxedo, and Susan was carrying every camera she owns. The whole thing was delightfully silly, and between Peter, Susan and Bob all taking pictures, we got some great shots and short videos.
Peter continues to bend over backward for A Long Swim. He had a number of t-shirts printed up announcing the MIMS swim, and is alerting everyone on Facebook that they can come into the store to grab one, in exchange for a $100 donation. As always, Peter’s creative idea became a reality, and he has collected more than $2,000 in less than a week. I have always said that, if you are the teammate in the Speedo, the A Long Swim team is a great team to be on.
Guys like Peter Yankala make it that way.
Bob built local notoriety like no one else could. Starting more than 10 years ago, Bob came up with the idea of the “Ride for 3 Reasons,” and rode a bicycle around the United States in three separate trips. The last of those trips was the bicycle trek he took from Vancouver to Tijuana, so “Three Reasons” became “Three Countries” on that trip. Bob has supported the American Cancer Society, Hospice and the Les Turner ALS Foundation with his rides, and between them he has raised more than $1.5 million.
You can’t think of Bob without thinking of Anne, his equally energetic wife. The causes they support aren’t just “Bob’s thing,” but ones that they support together with such great vigor. Anne is always there, setting up the metaphorical chairs with a smile on her face and a quick, infectious laugh. Bob and Anne have won every philanthropy award that our town can provide, but the work that they have done would entitle them to so much more. Susan and I have become very close friends with Bob and Anne and, to borrow a line from “Wicked,” the relationship has definitely changed us for good.
Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that when we were thinking of including a charitable component to A Long Swimthat I called on Bob. He had developed the perfect model for me to follow, and I was eager to borrow all elements of it that I could. I didn’t know the first thing about what we were doing, but I knew that Bob could guide and counsel me on the process. There are a couple of things I remember from that first coffee meeting we had, all of which ended up being true. The most important was his observation, “You have a lot of training to do, and you have a business to run. You don’t have time to be a full-time fundraiser, too.” Because we had Bob in our corner, the fundraising became more successful than it would have been, probably by an order of magnitude.
Bob made sure that we had the right audience with the right folks at Les Turner Foundation. In our very first meeting, I explained to them that nothing A Long Swim could do would ever match what Bob Lee had done, and that I didn’t want them to be disappointed. Without hesitation, they embraced the idea of marathon swimming with gusto.
Bob is one of those guys who join people together. It starts by him knowing just about everyone you can imagine (the rule of ‘six degrees of separation’ does not hold true with Bob; with him, it is more like two degrees. Tops.) and it ends with him making introductions that prove fruitful for everyone. The guy is just remarkable that way.
Speaking of gusto, Bob is going to join us in New York. He will, once again, be riding a bicycle, this time around Manhattan Island. He will be taking photos all the way along, and I already know that he will capture some element of New York City that none of us have ever seen.
Through every step of the way since that fateful coffee meeting in 2009, Bob has been my mentor, my sounding board, and a bottomless well of good and clever ideas. As a charter member of the A Long Swim team, Bob deserves every bit of respect and admiration that we have.
I know that I am not alone when I say, “When I grow up, I want to be Bob Lee.”