MORGAN PARK — Walsh Construction Co. builds bridges, roads, hospitals and skyscrapers. But on Thursday, the family behind the massive Chicago-based company built upon its legacy.
Mercy Home for Boys & Girls renamed its campus at 11600 S. Longwood Drive in Morgan Park for the late Margaret Walsh of Beverly.
The Margaret Walsh Campus for Girls debuted in honor of the matriarch behind the company responsible for the construction of Maggie Daley Park, a new light rail transit system in Los Angeles, a bridge over the Ohio River in Louisville and countless other major projects both locally and nationwide.
Margaret Walsh died in 2004 at age 99. She raised her family in North Beverly, including her sons Dan and Matt.
The pair now operate the construction company with their families — all of whom were on hand to celebrate with a mass, ribbon cutting and reception.
"She'd be so proud," Dan Walsh said, contemplating his mother's reaction.
The Morgan Park campus is home to about 40 women who range in age from 11-21, said Mark Schmeltzer, director of communications for the charity that works with more than 600 children and young adults annually.
"The common denominator is some form of abuse," Schmeltzer said.
The young women in Morgan Park are often dealing with the fallout from emotional, physical or sexual abuse. The average stay on the well-manicured campus is about two years, he said.
During this time, the girls receive an array of counseling. They also have defined goals in terms of education, household chores and therapeutic benchmarks. Once armed with these skills, the girls are sent back into the world with their legal guardians.
"We don't want kids to grow up here," said Schmeltzer, adding that a defined "after care" program checks in with former residents to be sure they continue on a successful path.
Mercy Home opened in Morgan Park in 1987. The facility was previously operated as a retreat house by the Sisters of the Cenacle. Dan Walsh said his mother would often attend mass at the chapel with her girlfriends from the neighborhood.
"I wondered, 'What is this place?' It must be some sort of country club, I thought," Dan Walsh said.
The property also includes a mansion built by Charles Walgreen III, the former president of the pharmacy chain. Walgreen bought his former home back from the nuns and donated the building to Mercy Home along with the adjoining convent.
This was a perfect fit for Mercy Home as the facility came equipped with dormitories for the incoming girls as well as a picturesque setting that was typically far-removed from the troubled neighborhoods that most of the girls called home, Schmeltzer said.
Born Margaret Bell, Walsh put herself through school, earning a degree from Chicago Teachers College in 1922. She spent her career teaching in Chicago Public Schools, landing her first job at age 19.
It's because of this lifelong love of learning that Patty and Dan Walsh have supported Mercy Home’s Legacy of Learning educational endowment campaign, which pays tuition expenses for girls on the campus to attend various Catholic schools nearby including St. Walter Catholic School in Morgan Park, Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School in Mount Greenwood, St. Bede the Venerable School in Ashburn and others.
"She would have really relished this," Matt Walsh said.
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