Banker, Humanitarian, and “Mr. Affordable Housing”
Robert E. Wahlgren, 73, longtime resident of Glen Ellyn, died at home surrounded by family Sunday, October 23, 2016.
Bob was born December 4, 1942, the son of Alice Corbett Wahlgren and Elmer Wahlgren of Park Ridge, Illinois. He was a graduate of Lane Tech High School. He met his wife, Kay Nelson, at The University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in 1966. Bob and Kay married September 4, 1965. They moved to Glen Ellyn in 1967 and soon joined First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn. Bob would later serve on every committee at the church.
Bob worked at Continental Bank of Illinois for 25 years, and after his retirement in 1988 found his true calling. He and friend Mark Milligan founded Bridge Communities to help homeless families get back on their feet. They rented one apartment, furnished it, found a family in need and provided mentoring and financial counseling to help the family save for a security deposit and first month’s rent on their own apartment. Mark helped mentor the families who came through the program, and Bob provided outside assistance and fundraising. The program has helped thousands of people.
Bob served as Bridge’s Chairman of the Board for 20 years. During his leadership of Bridge, the organization grew from one apartment to 13 buildings housing 150 people each night. “Bob is a visionary and force for good,” says his long-time housing colleague and friend Joyce Hothan, who served as Executive Director during Bob’s tenure there. “His motivation for doing good was fueled by his need to make sure children in his community had safe housing in order to grow and flourish.”
Bob became Executive Director of Community Housing and Development (CHAD) in 1997, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide permanent, safe and affordable rental housing for low and moderate income families in DuPage. He grew their housing stock from 100 units when he started to a remarkable 400 units when he retired from CHAD in 2010. Bob bought homes and apartment buildings, and built apartment buildings in Lombard and Glen Ellyn as well. Under an innovative program he initiated called Just Homes, Bob built eight townhouses in Glendale Heights and purchased 22 additional homes. This program, the first in the state, helped homeowners afford housing by allowing them to buy a percentage of equity in their home.
Bob retired from CHAD when he was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2010. Fortunate to have his cancer go into remission, he founded a second non-profit, Equity Sharing Partners, as a response to the housing crisis of 2008, buying vacant foreclosed homes to rehab and sell them to moderate-income families. This nonprofit received funding from both government and private sources to provide housing for five moderate-income families in DuPage, a testimony to Bob’s enthusiasm, vision and leadership in the field of affordable housing.
Bob advocated for affordable housing across the state. He held leadership positions in DuPage Housing Action Coalition and was active with Housing Action Illinois, a statewide housing advocacy group, visiting legislators to discuss the need. He served on the boards of Glen Ellyn United Way, DuPage PADS, DuPage Habitat for Humanity, LOVE Christian Clearing House, Spectrios Institute for Low Vision, and The DuPage Art League.
Bob has been recognized as a force for good by numerous groups, among them The Red Cross Community Relations Award in 1991, Glen Ellyn Distinguished Service Award in 1993, Catholic Charities Humanitarian Award in 1994, DuPage Homeownership Center’s Robert Christ Award in 1996, Glen Ellyn Citizen of the Year Award in 1998, United Crusade of Mercy Volunteer of the Year in 1998, The Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award in 2000, and The Golden Trowel Award from Housing Action Illinois in 2010.
Bob enjoyed teaching Junior Achievement classes to school children and was a Red Cross Volunteer for 27 years, meeting with families who were burned out of their homes. Bob recently joined the Board of The Glen Ellyn Children’s Resource Center to help in their efforts to serve more children in the community.
Bob loved horses and was a foxhunter in the Wayne-DuPage Hunt. He also sang in the choir of First Congregational Church and the DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church. Bob and Kay sang with the DuPage Community Chorale and the DuPage Opera Company, and Bob was a supernumerary for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He was a volunteer behind the scenes for the DuPage Art League and a Relay for Life participant. Golfing, horseback riding, scuba diving, ballroom dancing, and train travel were some of his other hobbies. He and Kay fostered children through Catholic Charities and hosted American Field Service (AFS) students.
Above all, Bob loved spending time with his family and friends, especially his four grandsons. He and Kay traveled extensively and celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary in September.
Bob is survived by his wife Kay, his daughter Christine (Ron) Edison of Glen Ellyn, his son Bill (Cara) of Wheaton, and by his grandchildren, Louis, Henry, Robert, and Calvin Wahlgren. Bob is also survived by his brother David of Austin, Texas, and his nephew David (Deanna), his sister-in-law Christin Nelson of Port Reyes, California, his sister-in-law Rolane (Curt) Meyer of Bozeman, Montana, and by his nephews Luke, Josh, and Seth (Kirsten) Meyer and their daughter Morgan. He will be missed by his family and many friends he made during his life of service.
A memorial celebration will be held at McAninch Arts Center, 425 Fawell Blvd, Glen Ellyn, IL 60137 November 12th, 2016 at 4:30 PM. Interment will be private. Funeral arrangements made by Leonard Memorial Home. For more information, call (630) 469-0032. In lieu of flowers donations to the Glen Ellyn Children’s Resource Center, 246 Taft Ave. Glen Ellyn 60137, www.gecrc.com or American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37839, Boone, IA 50037-0839, www.redcross.org/donate/donation, would be appreciated.