Jim Franczek, '72 and Deborah Chase Franczek, '72: Lifelong Chicagoans Give Back to Their City

Appeared in Record issue: 
Fall 2009

There are many ways to affect the life and the history of a city. Some are accompanied by acclaim; some are less noticed but no less significant. Between them, Jim Franczek, '71 and his wife Deborah Chase Franczek, '72, who friends call Debbie, have done both, and have helped make Chicago what it is and what it is becoming.

Jim's firm, Franczek Radelet P.C., has become, since its founding in 1994, Chicago's preeminent management-side labor law firm, representing scores of private and public sector employers. Jim is the chief labor counsel for the City of Chicago, the Chicago Public Schools, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the Chicago Park District, and the City Colleges of Chicago. He is- among many other things-a member of the Economic Club of Chicago; on the executive committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago; a governor of the Metropolitan Planning Council; a director of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and chair of its charitable foundation; and a board member of Advance Illinois.

There's more, which we will come to, but here's what he says about his wife: "She's the one who really has shown the variety of ways that you can apply a legal background to be of service." Debbie Franczek has (also among many other things) worked in the Chicago office of her classmate Senator Carol Moseley Braun, '72, worked in the development office of the Lincoln Park Zoo, and directed the Law School's alumni office. She has been president of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club; a member of the University of Chicago Women's Board; a director of Planned Parenthood of Illinois; an active participant in the University of Chicago Service League and the Smith College Club of Chicago; and president of SGA Youth & Family Services, a social service agency serving adolescents, young adults, and their families.

They met at a party just before Debbie started law school, forming a quick bond because they both had grown up in Chicago's south suburbs (she in Homewood, he in Harvey). Jim was quite active in city and state politics by the time they met (he had worked as a clerk in the Illinois Assembly for a group of representatives that included Abner Mikva, Harold Washington, and Anthony Scariano), so he was able to arrange an impressive location for their first date: Adlai Stevenson's farm in Libertyville. "It wasn't exactly a date," Debbie recalls. "There was a fundraising event there for one of Jim's political causes, and I got to come along." Their relationship blossomed and they were married just after Jim graduated. After Jim returned from a stint in the army, they settled in Hyde Park, where they have lived ever since.

Jim worked in Scariano's law office and ran some of Scariano's political campaigns, while Debbie was an associate at a Chicago firm. Jim later joined Vedder Price, while Debbie shifted to a position in the legal department at RR Donnelley. He continued to participate in high-profile political events, serving for example on Mayor Washington's and Mayor Daley's transition teams; she continued to be of service in leadership positions at many social-service organizations.

The Law School not only brought them together, it provided a nexus for many of the significant occasions in their lives. Bernie Meltzer recommended Jim for his job at Vedder Price, and when Jim started his own firm Meltzer visited often and offered guidance. Meltzer's wife Jean first brought Debbie into SGA Youth & Family Services. At a 1997 ceremony in Rockefeller Chapel honoring Meltzer for a university-wide teaching award, Jim was the one asked to speak about Meltzer from the perspective of a law school alumnus. "That I was asked to represent the thousands of people for whom Bernie Meltzer was an inspiration, a mentor, and a guide to the true meaning of practicing law still ranks among the highest honors I have received in my life," he says.

"Our relationship with the Meltzers has been very special for us, of course," Debbie observes, "yet in my alumni relations position I regularly observed how the Law School fosters lifelong connections between faculty and students, just as it fosters so many deep, enduring friendships among students. There's a lot that can be said about how great a Chicago Law School education is, but I think it is nearly unique among law schools in the quality of the bonds of friendship that are formed there."