Longtime friends Ruth La Place Zweifler ’51 and Mary Lackritz Gray ’51 have a lot in common: a stint as co-Class Notes editors (2002–2009), a recent landmark 90th birthday, a lifetime of passionate engagement—and the gratitude of their respective communities.
In the 1970s, just as Gray was earning her master’s in art history from the University of Chicago, Zweifler was beginning her education advocacy for underserved students in Michigan. In 1975, Zweifler founded the Student Advocacy Center of Michigan (SAC) with a focus on the educational experience of underserved students. “We think of teaching as stuffing in,” she says, “when education means to pull out. We have to find ways to encourage and embrace what children bring, what their insights are, what their worries are—not to silence them because they use the wrong words, but try to hear what they’re really asking about and to help them respond.”
Under her leadership, SAC worked to ensure that all students receive equal access to college prep and special education opportunities, created a program to promote dual enrollment at community colleges for troubled high school students, developed a community-operated in-school suspension program, campaigned against the practice of spanking in schools, and spearheaded a challenge to zero tolerance policies. This fall, SAC honored Zweifler at a gala that also launched the Ruth Zweifler Fund to support the organization’s policy and advocacy work.
As for Gray, she came by her love of art naturally: modern masters like Léger, Picasso, and Miró hung on the walls of her childhood home. An English major at Bryn Mawr, she earned her master’s in art history from the University of Chicago, published two books on the public art of Chicago, and with her late husband, the eminent gallerist Richard Gray, became one of the most enthusiastic supporters of Chicago’s cultural community. Together, the Grays were instrumental in the preservation of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and, in keeping with Mary’s 2001 book, Guide to Chicago’s Murals, of Chicago Public School murals. At the University of Chicago’s Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry—of which they were founding benefactors—artists and scholars engage in experimental collaborations, and visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago can view work from their personal collection in the Richard and Mary L. Gray Wing.