The LGBT community would not be as far along as it is today without its allies, from family members to businesses, churches and unions.
One of Chicago's more significant contributors to LGBT and AIDS work is Miriam Hoover, a quiet woman whose charitable giving has helped fund dozens of organizations and projects, including the Hoover-Leppen Theater at the Center on Halsted, Chicago House, Bonaventure House, AIDS organizations in Palm Springs, Calif., and groups in her native Michigan.
On Nov. 1, 2013, she marks her 100th birthday.
Her connection to AIDS and LGBT issues is primarily through her nephew, Michael Leppen, himself a prominent philanthropist and activist on LGBT and AIDS issues in Chicago and nationally.
Miriam Ulvinen Hoover was born in Humboldt, Mich. She is an active member of the Episcopal Church and supports three dioceses. She is a fan of opera, symphony, ballet and theater. She is a life trustee for The Living Desert Reserve, Episcopal Charities, Seabury Western Theological seminary and Bishop Anderson House. She has retired from the various boards but keeps an active interest in their progress and achievements.
Dozens of major cultural institutions have received support from Hoover, including Chicago Botanical Society, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
She is the first female Canon elected to St. James Cathedral in Chicago, and she received an honorary doctorate from Seabury Western Theological Seminary. She has also received ( with her husband ) a star on the walk in Palm Springs, and the Steve Chase Humanitarian award from Desert AIDS Project.
What follows is a question-and-answer conducted via email, with assistance from Hadley Rue.
Windy City Times: Miriam, where were you born and raised? What was your family makeup ( siblings, parents, etc. )?
Hoover: I was born in Humboldt, Mich., on the family farm. I came out a month early, and as my mother said, I am always ahead of the game. My father died when I was four years old. Later, my mother remarried a wonderful man who became my stepfather. I had nine sisters, two died as babies, and three brothers.
WCT: What was life like for your family when you were a teenager?
Hoover: A typical teenager's life. We did not have all the computers and cellphones of today. We learned to share good times with each other. We enjoyed nature and church and valuable time with our families.
Windy City Times: Were there things that happened to you early in your life that shaped you for the rest of your life? For example, the Depression, World War II, etc.
Hoover: During the war years I worked as a Red Cross nurse at the Naval Base. We learn to appreciate everything we had. Not wasting food or time. All of my siblings worked hard and we stayed together as a family unit supporting each other. We were taught to share our daily blessings with those in need.
Windy City Times: Tell us about your husband who passed on, Mr. Hoover. What was your partnership like?
Hoover: Earl was my best friend, lover and companion. We had 35 wonderful years of marriage. We shared many experiences together, traveled the world, and enjoyed every day together. Earl would ask and respect my opinion on various subjects. Every day together was filled with many wonderful blessings. We lived, we laughed and we prayed together.
Windy City Times: As a woman, what were some of the challenges you faced in your life, prior to and after the women's movement of the 1970s?
Hoover: Prior to changes that took place, women worked just as hard as men, but were not paid the same. After the movement, the world learned to respect a woman's intuition, insight and knowledge and started to compensate each woman for their true value as a contributing person in the world.
Windy City Times: When did you first enter the world of philanthropy, giving of your time and/or money, and what compelled you to do so?
Hoover: I think as a child. My mother always taught us that we need to share with those less fortunate. It was not unusual for her to invite a family in need for a meal. Under my late husband's guidance, I learned to become involved and work with many charitable organizations. He also taught me that when a gift was given, we need to hold the agency accountable that it was used for the clients for the specific reason the gift was given. I learned as a young woman, it is not the size of gift that is important, it is the fact that you gave and participate to help those in need.
Windy City Times: How have you gone about selecting those causes and issues closest to your heart?
Hoover: An endless amount of requests, and then research into the organization to see if it would be something I would want to support. My faith and the church have always been of significant interest in what areas I will participate. Charitable organizations that work with indigent families, those who cannot help themselves and deserve a chance.
Windy City Times: What are your favorite causes to support?
Hoover: Church-related activities. Support for social services that provide need for families in dire straights. Education and health services for those in need. Arts and preservation of our culture.
Windy City Times: When did you first learn about the AIDS crisis, and how have you supported efforts to combat the disease? Can you tell me more about David Slaughter?
Hoover: Through my nephew Michael. David was his best friend and was struggling with his battle against HIV. I watched a world that would not reach out and help at that time. People would rather play ignorant to the true facts of the disease and those it was affecting. David was a gentle spirit with lion heart. Unfortunately he lost his battle and it was a loss for all of us as a good friend. Since then, I have supported agencies researching the disease and looking for a cure, as well as agencies both here and in Palm Springs that provide care and guidance for HIV clients
Windy City Times: When Michael came out to you as gay, did that change your opinion about gays, or did you have other things that influenced your opinion of the gay community?
Hoover: No; it did not change my opinion, except to embrace him and his friends as still an important part of my extended family. I spoke with political leaders concerning their lack of empathy for the gay community. I supported the documentary that Michael worked on with Dan Karslake, For the Bible Tells Me So, and encouraged the distribution to individuals and groups that needed a "wake-up call".
Windy City Times: You have been very generous with LGBT causes, including funding the Hoover-Leppen Theater at Center on Halsted, and other LGBT groups and cultural programs. Have you had to educate your friends and family on why this cause is important to you? Have you heard negative comments?
Hoover: I filter out the negative comments and let it go as bad water that flows under the bridge. I have been supportive of many LGBT causes, not just because of Michael, but all of his friends and the many wonderful individuals I have had the honor to meet over the years. We live in a country that is supposed to provide equal rights for all of its citizens. This country needs to come together as one loving family, embracing each other and working as a cohesive unit. What a message would send to the rest of the world.
Windy City Times: Any final thoughts on making it to 100 years, and the lessons you have learned?
Hoover: I have learned to take each day as it comes, and enjoy every moment of it. I cherish my times with friends and family. Life is too short to be bitter and angry. ... Wasted emotions that will achieve nothing for you.