The pink-rose bike stands in a garage in Highland Park.
It was the bike a 9-year-old Lesley Eisenberg rode to accompany her father, Harold “Hal” Eisenberg, for trips around a neighborhood in Highland Park.
They exercised, side by side.
“He’d ask me to join him, sometimes twice a week,” recalls the daughter, now Lesley Kiferbaum and the mother of four. “He’d wave to everybody who was outside, and everybody would wave back. That was our time together — a time when he’d ask how I was doing, how my friends were doing. We’d talk about a lot of things, but mostly about things that interested me.”
Ten years later — when Hal, a real estate developer, was 53 and still jogging regularly — the husband of Sheila and the father of three (Lesley and sons Peter and Scott) felt back pain. Hal made an appointment with a doctor in early 1999.
It was cancer.
Lesley’s favorite man in the world died two weeks later.
“It stunned us,” says the 37-year-old Kiferbaum, a 1997 Highland Park High School graduate who is married to Roi and lives in Highland Park with their children (Sophie, 8, Charlie, 6, Ethan, 5, and Jack, 2). “It stunned his friends and his co-workers. My dad was healthy.
“His doctor, Dr. Al Benson [at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago], helped us get through those tough weeks. He was patient and kind, and he was realistic. He told us the cancer would spread quickly.”
Lesley, 19 at the time of her loss, left the University of Michigan for a semester and returned to earn degrees in anthropology and religion. Shortly after Hal’s death, Lesley and her family — with waves of support from Hal’s energetic friends and colleagues — started the Harold E. Eisenberg Foundation (HEEF), which funds gastrointestinal research at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and provides real estate education programs for students who connect with professionals in the field of real estate.
“We started the foundation because we didn’t want any family to go through what ours went through after my dad’s diagnosis,” says Kiferbaum, a past president of HEEF’s Associate Board and a current member of the foundation’s Executive Board. “Gastrointestinal cancer research is still underfunded, but progress has been made. It’s dramatically different today, with more and more doctors committed to personalized medicine and with the advancements we’re seeing because of genomics and other technologies.
“Every dollar counts,” she adds.
A third branch of HEEF — the 25-member Junior Board — met for the first time in January. Budding philanthropists as young as second-graders (and as “old” as seniors in high school) gathered inside the Kiferbaum house to start planning for the Junior Board’s inaugural major fundraiser. It’s called “Shoot For the Cure!”, and it’s set to take place on April 23, from noon until 3 p.m., at the Don Skrinar Recreation Center in Highwood (428 Green Bay Road). Hoopsters (pre-kindergarten to eighth grade) aim to shoot their hearts out, fray twine along the way and net donations for gastrointestinal research during the event, sponsored by Banner Plumbing Supply in Buffalo Grove.
The goal is to nail shot after shot after shot — and make Finish Strong Athletics coach Jason “Chap” Chaplain sit still for a serious haircut. Chaplain has agreed to lose his locks if the kids make 1,000 shots.
“We want the Junior Board high school kids to mentor the middle school kids, and we want the middle school kids to mentor the younger ones,” says Kiferbaum, adding youngsters raised money for HEEF for the first time when they held a vegetable fest and sold lemonade in her neighborhood about four years ago. “The kids are learning about PR and marketing, about decorations, about teamwork, about the other logistics involved in an event like this. When they come together once a month, we tell them to put their cell phones down and then ask them, ‘Do you remember what our mission is?’ They’ve been great. They’re listening to each other, and they’re respectful of others’ views.
“They’re seeing,” she adds, “how valuable it is to work together as members of sub-committees.”
Kiferbaum lifts a forkful of the cheese omelet (with mushrooms, onions, green peppers and broccoli) she had ordered at Walker Bros. Original Pancake House in Highland Park. She consumes it. She looks around. The restaurant reminds her of her childhood and the times her family came here to share flying-saucer-sized apple pancakes. It’s easy for me to see her father is on her mind — like he’s been every day since he died more than 18 years ago.
“My dad,” she says, “had great morals, great values. You wanted to be around him because he was full of life and passionate about so many things. He was present, always present, for his kids. He and my mom — sweethearts at South Shore High School in Chicago — had the best marriage. And he was a man who looked forward to work each day because he couldn’t wait to interact with his colleagues.
“What he liked to tell my brothers and me was, ‘If you have an idea and you think it’s a good one, make it happen.’ ”
The Harold E. Eisenberg Foundation was a good idea years ago. People — good, devoted, loving people — made it happen.
Today it’s one of the nation’s largest private foundations dedicated to gastrointestinal cancer research. HEEF’s 18th Annual Dinner, held at Hilton Chicago last fall, raised nearly $500,000. Countless triathletes, marathoners and half-marathoners have completed races and collected HEEF donations as Team Eisenberg members.
“Our kids on our Junior Board can’t give money, but they’re donating their time, energy and ideas to the foundation, and for that I will always be grateful,” Kiferbaum says. “I’m excited about our ‘Shoot For The Cure!’ event, as are the kids who are putting it together. I feel my kids — and other Junior Board members — know what my dad was like.
“I’m thankful for any chance I get to talk about my dad, which I’m doing right now.”
That pink-rose bike is waiting for its next rider. It stands in the garage at the home of Sheila, Lesley’s mom.
“I can’t wait until my daughter [Sophie] is big enough to ride it,” Kiferbaum says.
Lesley Kiferbaum jogs alongside a pedaling Sophie one day and waves to everybody outside. The mom asks her daughter how her day is going. The mom listens.
A brief silence ensues.
The mom thinks about her dad.
Another chance …
The mom talks about her dad.
The daughter listens.
For more information about the Harold E. Eisenberg Foundation, please visit eisenbergfoundation.org.