It was a young Tim McCabe’s favorite Saturday, the third of each month, the day he’d get to hang out with his father, Jim, at work. Jim, an Evanstonian, was a Ford parts department manager on the North Shore. Timmy was a grade-schooler.
“We’d go to a diner, the same diner, and drink coffee together on those Saturday mornings,” the son recalls. “The taste of the coffee … horrible. There wasn’t enough cream and sugar available to make me like it, but I still drank it, and I felt like a grownup when I drank it.
“My dad worked hard, did the right things. He was friendly, respectful.”
Surrounded by mufflers and tires and batteries as a child, Tim, now 59 and a resident of Palatine, steers a mission as the executive director of the Winnetka Community House (WCH), a privately supported facility founded in 1911.
“The place is amazing and busy,” McCabe, executive director since 2009, says. “Busy all of the time. It truly is a part of the fabric of Winnetka, touching the lives of everybody in the village. I was at our biggest fundraiser, Antiques + Modernism Show, and I heard a woman say, ‘There’s the room where I learned ballet, and I took music lessons in another room.’ When I first entered the place [as a candidate for the WCH Assistant Director post, nearly 20 years ago], it brought back so many memories of my childhood, of days spent at the YMCA in Evanston. It felt comfortable, immediately.
“I felt like a kid again.”
Men, today, play pickup basketball games at WCH. Some of those men had learned to play basketball as first-graders — in a WCH gymnasium. WCH houses the Winnetka Youth Organization and the North Shore Art League and the Junior League of Evanston-North Shore, among other tenant organizations. WCH served as an incubator for the Hadley School for the Blind and for the North Shore Senior Center. Business meetings and birthday parties are held at WCH. Children’s Theatre of Winnetka presented “Annie Jr.”, a family-friendly musical at WCH’s Matz Hall (365 seats) earlier this month. Voters voted there on Nov. 8.
Brides and grooms say “I do” there. A “best man” for a Fantasy Football enthusiast — yes, Fantasy Football Drafts have been held at WCH — is a Tom Brady or an Antonio Brown, minus the tuxedoes.
“We are always taking the temperature of the community, always asking residents, ‘What do you want Winnetka Community House to be?’ ” McCabe says. “Or, ‘What other offerings would you like us to provide?’ My full-time staff [of 16] is wonderful, and our volunteers, our hundreds of volunteers, … we wouldn’t be able to exist without their support and hard work. We wouldn’t be able to exist without the support of this community, this generous community.”
McCabe’s mother, Jane, worked for Evanston/Skokie School District 65 during McCabe’s high school and college years. She got wind of a District 65 summer job opening and mentioned it to her son. Tim performed warehouse duties for the district and cut every blade of grass at every district school during the summers. The work paid for his tuition and books at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where he majored in accounting.
McCabe garnered more than paychecks as a public accountant in Chicago. His office manager had a niece named Terry. Tim met Terry. They would become Mr. and Mrs. McCabe and raise three children (Erin, 29, Casey, 27, and Carly, 20). Terry works in the insurance industry.
Tim McCabe completed comptroller stints for a home builder and for a furniture store before deciding it was time to exit the for-profit world. Winnetka Community House needed an assistant executive director; it said so in a newspaper’s want ad. McCabe interviewed for the position in 1997.
Former WCH Executive Director Don Van Arsdale conducted the interview. McCabe got hired and served as assistant director for 12 years, handling much of the financial and operational workings of the village’s educational, cultural, social and recreational hub.
“I wanted something more meaningful,” McCabe says of his career change in his late 30s. “We’re doing meaningful things here. We’re doing our best to reflect what our community needs. You know what’s really rewarding about what I do? Hearing the sounds of kids in the building, going to classes, running to the gym, laughing. That sound, for me, is like a spring renewal. My kids attended camps and classes when they were young, when they got to come to work with their dad.”
McCabe, sitting at a table in Café Aroma in Winnetka, grins. He had ordered The Day Breaker — two eggs, ham, hash browns and an English muffin. Decaf coffee, too.
He takes a sip of coffee.
He does not wince, does not look for a gallon of cream, does not look for a wheelbarrow of sugar.
Timmy McCabe is Tim McCabe, all grown up.