Record gift will transform specialty care at Comer Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago

$42 million gift from Lands' End founder a major step forward for children's healthcare in Chicago

January 25, 2006

Gary C. Comer, founder of the Lands' End clothing-catalogue company, and his wife, Frances, have made a $42 million donation to the University of Chicago to create the Comer Center for Children and Specialty Care--a four-story, 122,500 square-foot facility adjoining the recently opened Comer Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago--and to recruit leading physician-scientists and build programs providing state-of-the-art care and advancing the forefront of pediatric medicine.

The gift is the largest single donation ever made to the University of Chicago, and raises total support from the Comers for children's services at the University of Chicago to more than $84 million. That total includes a $21 million donation in 2001 to build the Comer Children's Hospital, which opened last February, and a $20 million gift in 2003 to add a pediatric emergency room, as well as support for other programs such as a mobile van that brings primary and preventive care into South Side schools.

The Comer Center for Children and Specialty Care will add 50 percent to the space of the Comer Children's Hospital. Construction began in March of 2005. The Center will include a new pediatric emergency room, on the first floor, which will open this year, followed in phases by space dedicated to specialty ambulatory care, advanced operating rooms, and procedural areas, and expansion of inpatient units. Program development is already underway in heart, cancer, neurosciences, gastroenterology, transplantation, advanced surgery, neonatalogy, and other pediatric specialties.

"We are tremendously grateful for the extraordinary commitment that Gary and Frances Comer have made to the well-being of children, not just to those on the South Side of Chicago but also to children from all around the world," said Don Michael Randel, president of the University of Chicago.

"Children with the most complex disorders, those in the most dire health position, are among the truly needy in this world, and they have found a champion in Gary Comer," said James Madara, MD, vice president for medical affairs and Dean of the Biological Sciences and the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago.

"The Comers' remarkably generous gift, which follows a series of equally remarkable gifts, guarantees that the University of Chicago will remain at the forefront of children's medicine, providing the best possible setting for superb patient care, research, and training," said Michael Riordan, president and CEO of the University of Chicago Hospitals. "It also means that Comer Children's Hospital, and the doctors and staff working here, will play a growing role in improving healthcare for all children."

"My wife Francie and I have been determined to find the most effective ways to give back to my old neighborhood," said Gary Comer. "We have chosen to do that by that focusing on fundamental needs such as children's health and education. What could be more important than that?"

Comer Children's Hospital has already become a national model for pediatric healthcare. This seven-story hospital provides an ultra-modern yet child-friendly setting for all inpatient children's health services at the University of Chicago Hospitals, including nationally recognized programs in cardiology, cancer, neurology, neonatology, minimally invasive surgery, gastroenterology, transplantation, and other pediatric medical and surgical specialties. It was designed not just by architects and healthcare providers, but also by current and former patients, who contributed features that will bring many of the comforts of home into the hospital.

"The goal here, and we are well on the way, is to create the best children's hospital for the care of complex disease in the world," said Steve Goldstein, MD, PhD, professor and chairman of pediatrics at the University of Chicago. "The Comer Children's Hospital and Comer Center for Children and Specialty Care will enhance and extend our tradition of training doctors to bring cutting-edge care to the rest of the globe."

The Comer Center for Children and Specialty Care, including the pediatric emergency room, will expand Comer Children's Hospital by about 50 percent, from 242,000 to 365,000 square feet. Although the exact configuration may change, current plans would double the operating room and procedural capacity, concentrate pediatric specialty ambulatory care within Comer, and may add 20 to 25 beds to the current complement of 155. The new pediatric emergency room will be substantially larger than the current children's ER and will include not only more space for emergency care but also enhanced waiting and family areas as well as new teaching space. Total cost of the project, not including faculty recruitment and program development, is $100 million.

The Comer Center for Children and Specialty Care is the next step in a remarkable commitment to children's healthcare by the University of Chicago and the Hospitals. In November, ground was broken for the Center for Biomedical Discovery (CBD), a 10-story, biomedical research facility devoted to translational research. Nearly one-third of the CBD will be devoted to the Institute for Molecular Pediatric Science, which will house up to 50 research teams.

Physician-scientists in the Institute, known on campus as IMPS, will "explore childhood diseases at the most basic level," Goldstein said. "It will harness the insights of the biomedical revolution and apply them to the care of sick children." The Comer Center for Children and Specialty Care, by focusing on complex disease, will help the neediest children right away, but "the clinical and basic science faculty will apply the insights gained from complicated cases to open a window on the fundamental processes of all childhood diseases," he said.

Gary Comer, 78, was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago and graduated from the Paul Revere School, 1010 E. 72nd Street, in 1942. An avid sailor since childhood, Comer decided at age 33 to give up a 10-year career as an advertising copywriter at Young & Rubicam to start his own company, as long as it had some connection with sailboat racing.

In the fall of 1962, he started a mail-order sailing equipment business, distributing sailing gear, rain suits, and sweaters. The first location for the company was in an apartment on North Kedzie Avenue. In the spring of 1963, Comer and five partners incorporated Lands' End Yacht Stores (the misplaced apostrophe was a typo that became part of the firm's history), and moved to a rent-free basement office on Elston Avenue.

By 1965, they had begun to make a small profit and they printed their first catalogue, which became an industry legend for its clever and tight writing. In 1978, Comer moved the warehouse and phone operations to Dodgeville, Wisconsin. In 1986, Lands' End went public. It is the second largest apparel-only mail-order business and the world's largest clothing Web site.

Comer stepped down as president of Lands' End in 1990, but remained as chairman of the board and the majority stockholder. In 2002 Sears purchased Lands' End.

Through private donations, the Comers have supported several Chicago-based projects that advance health and education, especially for children on the South Side. They have given about $50 million to the Revere School community, including a $30 million donation to create the Gary Comer Youth Center, an activity, performance and education center for area youths, adjacent to his alma mater; $7 million to the Revere School, where he has funded a series of educational initiatives; $5 million to a neighborhood housing initiative, and about $1.5 million to the South Shore Drill Team.

At the Hospitals, the Comers have also supported research on an innovative approach to ovarian cancer at the University of Chicago and launched the Comer Pediatric Mobile Care program, run by University physicians, which brings comprehensive primary and preventive healthcare to students at South Side public schools. Frances Comer is a longtime member of the University of Chicago's Women's Board.

The Comer Science and Education Foundation supports efforts nationwide to improve research and science education and to advance understanding of global issues, such as climate change.

The University of Chicago Medicine
Communications
950 E. 61st Street, Third Floor
Chicago, IL 60637
Phone (773) 702-0025 Fax (773) 702-3171


Press Contact

John Easton
(773) 702-0025
john.easton@uchospitals.edu