Growing up in an apartment above his parents' bakery in downtown Wheaton and spending summers at the local swimming pool with his brother, Cleve Carney has never forgotten where he's come from.
After he went on to have great financial success as head of Olsson Roofing Co. and the former Bank of Batavia, Carney became involved in several local philanthropic efforts, serving on the boards of nonprofits such as the DuPage Community Foundation and the Elmhurst Art Museum.
In 2006, the West Suburban Philanthropic Network named him Philanthropist of the Year.
That legacy continued Thursday night at the College of DuPage, which hosted a reception to honor Carney for his latest gift -- a $700,000 donation to the college and an in-kind contribution of artwork expected to be worth at least $300,000. Combined, it is perhaps the largest gift in the college's 45-year history.
Carney has bequeathed 40 percent of his art collection, made up of some 800 paintings, sculptures and other contemporary art representations, to the college. It will become part of COD's permanent art collection and be displayed all over its Glen Ellyn campus, as well as in a new one-story, 1,400-square-foot "art space" gallery named in Carney's honor to be constructed this year as part of planned renovations to the McAninch Arts Center.
"Cleve has championed wonderful emerging artists, and I can't think of a better place to display his art than where we're training the next emerging artists," said Stephen Cummins, director of the MAC.
Another 40 percent of Carney's collection will be donated to the Elmhurst Art Museum, and 20 percent will be given to family.
Carney is suffering from the advanced stages of progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare brain disorder diagnosed seven years ago. He now uses a wheelchair and is unable to speak. But he made it out Thursday to the college's reception -- on his 73rd birthday -- joined by family members, friends and those tied to the college.
Brother Rick Carney said Cleve became friends with the MAC's founding director, Jack Weiseman, and the two previously discussed a possible art donation.
"Cleve's wish is for this community to enjoy art the way he has enjoyed it as it is presented in this new space," Rick Carney said.
Friend Mark Wight, an architect whose firm is designing the renovated MAC, described Cleve as "a Renaissance man," with an appreciation for art, theater, dance, food and wine. He said Cleve's entire Glen Ellyn home is filled with art -- on the walls, ceilings and floors -- that he's amassed from going to galleries across the country throughout the years.
"He loves contemporary art, weird art, art that's difficult to understand -- the kind of art you look at and say, 'I could do that,'" Wight said. "He remembers every artist, every piece of artwork and every story behind each artist and piece of artwork. His capacity for art is breathtaking."
The gallery named in Carney's honor will feature his donations to the college, as well as COD's other acquisitions. The $35 million in renovations to the 25-year-old MAC building include updates to the theater -- including acoustics -- classrooms and lobby. Construction is expected to begin this fall and be complete by February 2014.