Civic Group Offers Near-Anonymous Help in Times of Tragedy

Group has raised, given away more than $8 million since 1966

By Phil Rogers
|  Wednesday, Nov 17, 2010  |  Updated 9:02 PM CDT
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<a title=Executive Director Joe Ahern explains the history and motivation behind the 100 Club." />

Executive Director Joe Ahern explains the history and motivation behind the 100 Club.

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Chicago's first responders, the police, firemen, sheriff's deputies and federal agents, are known for being those who "serve and protect."  But who is there to serve and protect them? And their loved ones?

For more than 40 years, that near-anonymous help has come from the 100 Club of Chicago, a volunteer organization which specializes in low-key assistance for the families of firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty.

"We've raised and given away over $8 million," said Joe Ahern, the agency's executive director. "We've served 240 families. We've got 18 kids in college right now."

That, perhaps, is the least-known, of the 100 Club's many services.

They are frequently seen presenting checks to grieving widows during the first 24 hours of an officer's death. And that financial help is substantial: $15,000 immediately, with another $35,000 in the weeks thereafter.

But the help doesn't stop there.

"All of the eligible dependents in the family, we will pay for their college education, or vocational school," said Ahern.  "Undergraduate, and graduate."

Currently, there are 47 children of fallen officers, who will be eligible to receive financial assistance when they reach college age.

Jennifer Loudon saw the 100 Club's generosity first hand.  Her husband, Chicago police officer Thor Soderberg, was killed during an apparent robbery attempt four months ago.

"No one will ever understand what I gave up," Loudon said Wednesday, in an apartment filled with mementos of the life she shared with Soderberg until that horrific day last July. "In those first weeks and months, you have no idea what you'll need."

"To have people you don't know, show up with an outpouring of support that's both emotional and financial, when you have no idea how you're going to do it or get through it, or even have to accomplish in the next few weeks," she said.

The 100 Club was there offering financial assistance to Loudon almost immediately. But she noted other challenges which the agency is prepared to tackle as well. Loudon said she welcomed assistance simply negotiating with a car salesman, or finding a plumber.

Ahern said it's those kinds of intangibles that many families take for granted, which take on immense importance in the aftermath of a shattering loss.

"There's financial problems," he said. "There's legal issues. There's insurance. There's health care."

On Wednesday, the 100 Club presented its annual valor awards to four Chicago-area first responders recognized for their own acts of heroism: Willow Springs fire captain John DeHaan was recognized for the rescue of a woman who tried to kill herself with a leap from a suburban bridge; Chicago firefighter Jason Durbin was honored for his lifesaving work in a high-rise fire last December; Berwyn officer Robert Fox was cited for his intervention in the attempted abduction of two children last June; and Chicago police officer Darren Wright was celebrated for the pursuit and fatal shooting of an armed offender in the 68 hundred block of South King Drive.

"You have this conversation, a lot of us do, with our wives," said Durbin, reflecting on the assistance the 100 Club offers families. "What if something happens? What if? Some people might avoid it, but the smart question is, 'What are we going to do?'"

Durbin has a wife, a 2-year-old daughter and another child on the way. He noted that firefighters often work second or even third jobs to make ends meet for their families. Few, he said, can afford costly life insurance, and welcome the assistance the 100 Club offers.

"There's a sense of peace that comes with that," Durbin said. "Because God forbid, if something did happen, and I had 15 seconds to think before it's over, part of me can say, 'They'll be OK.' That's a comforting feeling."

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