Gymnastics School Owner/ Director of The Golder Family Foundation/ Philanthropist
“We came into a lot of money upon the passing of my father.”
We meet in Nancy’s Long Grove, IL, home. She talks about how her father taught her and her brothers philanthropy by assigning them a large amount of money and making them figure out how to handle it. She says she is taking a “more gradual” approach with her own children.
My husband and I own a gymnastics school up in Gurnee. It’s called Ultimate Gymnastics. It is the fourth school that I’ve started. I have been in that industry for about 35 years. We have about 42 teachers on staff. Because my degree is in early childhood special education, I could educate but didn’t know the business side of things. I had the opportunity for a one year kind of “internship” I guess you would call it, with my second mentor in the business world.
His name is Bob Trotter. You may have heard of Charlie Trotter’s restaurant. So Charlie and I are good friends, and his father mentored me in the business side of the sport of gymnastics. I worked with him for a whole year before we opened the school in Northbrook, learning the business side. Simple accounting, marketing and sales. He really taught me in the trenches about business. “We look for families that have expendable income when we do our studies of areas. Growing families, affordable housing.
When 2008, 2009 happened, we were very leery of that demographic not being able to handle the cost, but what we found was, parents will spend money on their children before themselves. And we have been very lucky. We’re in the top 10% of gyms in the country in terms of enrollment. We have about 1,400 students that come through every week.
My childhood was privileged. I grew up in Winnetka, Illinois, and Scarsdale, New York. Both affluent suburbs, privileged but strict, yeah. My father started with the First National Bank of Chicago, which is no longer called that; it’s changed names many times or been bought out. And he ended his career having his own private equity and venture capital firm, which continues today. He grew up with money, but not as much as he accumulated through his business. His father was a very prominent lawyer in the city of Chicago. His mother was a stay-at-home mom. And my mom’s parents — huge dichotomy. My grandfather, my mom’s dad was kind of a slum lord of buildings in the inner city. So he managed inner city housing for low-income people.
I was aware of privilege at the time, because my parents taught us what the difference was between privileged and not. We always had kids in our house. My mom always worked with children that came from no privilege as far as their home life or their monetary situation was concerned. So we had children live with us for the summer that were our peers. Our same ages.
We always had a plethora of extra family members, kids that came from different backgrounds than we did. And that was something that was instilled in us from an early age. I think my dad was one of the least selfish people, and my mom as well. He worked really hard and he made a lot of money and he gave away a lot of money. He took pride in helping humans and teaching people. He too was kind of a teacher. He was an adjunct professor at Northwestern in their business school.
But beyond that, he did things like he took Cardinal Bernadine to Israel with a group of people to work on interfaith relations, his way of educating people about various faiths and bringing them together. I believe that money, now as an adult, is not a right. But it is a privilege. It comes with great responsibility. That was taught to my brothers and me in our twenties, probably, when we were all graduated from college.
My parents taught us that we live better than most people in the United States and with that comes a huge responsibility. That responsibility is to share when you can. It’s instilled in my being that the whole world isn’t like my family. Having been a teacher in the classroom and known many families all at one time, I know that there’s a huge diversity of income levels, even in the same school. I understand that from my staff, I understand it from a giving standpoint, a charitable standpoint, and that being said, I was taught that at an early age, you don’t just give money.
You need to be responsible about your giving too, and look into the organizations and go and visit and be an active, participating donor to your choices of giving. So we do that. We came into a lot of money upon the passing of my father. I hear his voice all the time, and he’s the one that taught my brothers and me about all this. In our early twenties, my parents passed the directorship of our family foundation to my brother’s and me, and that was a very nerve-wracking experience, because we had no experience managing a charitable foundation.
On my dad’s passing, we learned that he had put things in place for his children and our families very wisely with regard to the passing to the next generation of the wealth. I think a lot that I’d rather be back before that, because it is a big responsibility that I take very seriously. My brothers and I have gone through this together. It can be a stressful struggle. It really can be. Because differences of opinion arise about how to manage the money or how to distribute the money to family members or how to pass the money to the next generation. The family has grown because now it’s the three of us and eight grandchildren, so there’s the next generation happening. My boys are all in their twenties now. It’s creating a legacy of staying together as a family and agreeing on how to give the money away.
Do you ever worry about money, yourself?
The only time I really worried — and I’m almost embarrassed to say this because we’re so blessed to have money — but when 2008 and 2009 happened we were seeing our business and our money drop in half that summer. We didn’t pay ourselves so we could keep our staff being paid. We made some concessions that way. We had to take a real step back and say, okay, how are we going to continue this lifestyle? It was an outstanding exercise in reality, because really, we don’t need this lifestyle.
What we need is our healthy children and our marriage to be good and other kinds of intangible things to be okay. And at the time, we had our boys living at home. They only wanted to be in our bedroom with us at night before they went to bed. Even though they were in their late teens, they would come and sit at the foot of our bed, and we’d all talk about our day or watch the Letterman Show or Saturday Night Live or whatever it was.
And we said, you know, we could live in a two bedroom apartment. Everyone wants to be in the same room anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. I think it was humbling, and I think it made us better, because it was a reality check. You go along and you get used to a lifestyle and you think, oh, this’ll be here forever. And there’s a chance that, the reality of it is, there’s a chance that it could all go away. Makes you see what is really, at least for our family, what was the most important thing.
Have you ever felt any resentment directed toward you because of your wealth?
I don’t take it as resentment. I take it as misunderstanding. Because I believe people who are resentful of me because of my money don’t know me. I have a handful of really true friends, dear friends. We’ve been friends since I moved here from New York in eighth grade. They don’t judge that. I kind of understand how people can feel about it. I think it’s human nature to wish you had something when you don’t. And I believe that’s true of all of us at some point. We’ve wished for something that we either can’t get or don’t have; and even with the wealth that we enjoy, there’s things we can’t get.
Rob and I are leaving Friday for an amazing journey with my brothers and their families. We’re going to Vienna and Budapest. I can’t wait. Have not been there, but we love to travel, as does our whole family. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we shared a private jet? We were just kind of joking about that, because we were commiserating about the airport and delays. So my older brother, who manages our family business, looked into it. Really looked into it. And no, we could never do it, it’s so expensive. Our family could not afford it. Do I really wish for a private jet? No. Because what’s the challenge in that?
You can’t eliminate life’s challenges. I think people think that wealthy people have and can get anything. I think that’s a huge misconception. I look at wealthier people than us — there are many, many. People that I know, Bruce Rauner; the Pritzker family. They’re all extremely generous with their money. All the way to Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, the richest people in the world, I see as incredibly generous and philanthropic and unselfish. But I think people don’t look at that. They feel that the wealthy people are in control of everything. Come to know me before you criticize me or think something about me, just because I’ve got money.
Is there anything that you want that you can’t get?
No. There are intangible things that I want. I want my children to grow up with the sense of responsibility that I grew up with. I want to be healthy. I have chronic illness issues. Don’t want to have that anymore. But there are things that money can’t buy that everyone kind of wants to have. I’m sure you feel the same for your own family and children. And those things, though, cross boundaries. I’ll tell you what I do wish. I wish I had my dad and not the money.
See my interview with Nancy’s son, Dan Didech.