DeKalb High alumni from the Class of 1962 have never seen Fred Eychaner at a reunion, but he sent a brief note to their 50th gathering that read: “Working hard to re-elect Obama.”
Eychaner, now 69, is known in political circles as one of President Obama’s biggest supporters, shelling out some $14 million to Super PACS including $4.5 million to the Obama Priorities USA Action Committee during the last campaign. He continues to be a major player in both state and national Democratic fundraising, hosting Obama and Sen. Dick Durbin for a major fundraiser last month at his home in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.
Forbes magazine listed his net worth at $500 million some 12 years ago and today it is estimated as high as $1 billion by other online sources. The company he founded, Chicago-based Newsweb Corp., is a media company that publishes alternative newspapers and operates several radio stations around the country, some broadcasting in Spanish, as well as the Chicago progressive talk radio outlet WCPT-AM 820. The company also owns a Colorado TV station.
Eychaner is very low-key in his private life, but his Newsweb Corporation is in the printing and broadcast business, certainly a high-profile field.
Trying to get a phone call through to him is impossible, as I tried more than once. So I turned to his former DeKalb classmates to learn a little more about his background.
“He could be considered one of the original geeks in high school,” classmate G.K. “Jerry” Wuori said.
Probably Fred’s first foray into politics was during his senior year when Jerry ran for class president, although unsuccessfully. Fred was a part of his campaign team, known as the “Barbocrats” back when there weren’t many Democrats in this area. Later when Fred came out as a gay man, he became politically active for gay rights as well as the Democratic Party.
On April 23, he was honored with the National Liberty Award by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, an organization that promotes equality, and gave a speech, which was taped and released on YouTube, which must have chagrined him.
In that talk he commented on his upbringing in DeKalb, crediting his parents, Howard and Mildred Eychaner, whom he humorously referred to as “teetotaling Methodists,” with accepting his sexual orientation and then forming a Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) chapter.
He said they even marched in gay parades, passing out cards that read “Proud of our Gay and Non-Gay Children,” at the time something that might seem out of character for Mildred, who served on the local school board as secretary. Fred later honored his parents, who spent their last few years as residents of the Oak Crest Retirement Center in DeKalb, by donating a major portion of a $6 million expansion of the health care facility which was then named after Howard and Mildred.
Both parents died in 2005, just six months apart. At the groundbreaking, Fred shied away from cameras and sought no publicity for his generous bequest.
One can imagine that he will be a major supporter of the Hillary Clinton for President effort, since he backed her in the 2008 campaign. Not seeking any high-level appointments, Fred did accept an Obama offer of a board seat on the prestigious John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. He is also a life trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago and on the executive committee of the Joffrey Ballet.
Maybe his classmates can get him to host their 55th class reunion in 2017 at the Art Institute.
• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115. His column appears every other Tuesday.