Glen Ellyn's Cleve Carney remembered as art lover, philanthropist
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Cleve Carney was a businessman, a veteran and a lover of the arts, but perhaps he'll be best remembered for the impact he had on nonprofit organizations throughout DuPage County.
The Glen Ellyn resident decided to give back after his success from years at the helm of Olsson Roofing Co. in Aurora and the former Bank of Batavia, donating money and volunteer hours to groups including the DuPage Community Foundation, College of DuPage, Elmhurst Art Museum, Morton Arboretum and B.R. Ryall YMCA.
He died July 31 at his home due to complications from progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare brain disorder diagnosed eight years ago. He was 74.
"I think being a philanthropist was in him," said longtime friend Mark Wight, the chairman and CEO of Darien-based Wight & Company, who met Cleve through the construction business. "I think it was part and parcel to who he was as a human. I don't think there was any event or anything in his life that said, 'I need to give back.' I think Cleve Carney was born that way."
Cleve was named Philanthropist of the Year in 2006 by the West Suburban Philanthropic Network, shortly after he donated $1 million to the DuPage Community Foundation in the form of an IRA charitable rollover gift. The donation established a fund named in his honor that supports the foundation's mission of providing grants to a variety of nonprofit organizations in the county.
In total, he donated $1.25 million to the foundation during his lifetime.
He also was the group's longest-serving board chairman, from 1993 to 2001, and served on the board a total of 17 years.
"If there was one person who was Mr. DuPage Community Foundation, it was Cleve," said David McGowan, the foundation's president. "But I think his reach extended; in many ways he was Mr. DuPage as well."
Cleve's last major gift — perhaps the largest in the 46-year history of the College of DuPage — was a $700,000 contribution made last year, and an in-kind donation of a portion of his immense art collection expected to be worth at least $300,000.
He bequeathed 40 percent of his collection to COD, 40 percent to the Elmhurst Art Museum and 20 percent to family.
The art at COD will be displayed throughout the Glen Ellyn campus and in a new one-story, 1,400-square-foot "art space" gallery named in Carney's honor. It is now under construction, along with renovations to the McAninch Arts Center, and is expected to open next year.
Wight said Cleve's Glen Ellyn home was covered head-to-toe in contemporary art: not only on the walls, but also on the ceilings, floors and stairs. In total, the collection includes some 800 paintings, sculptures and other pieces of contemporary art that he bought during his travels around the world.
Wight accompanied him on many of those trips, and recalls when Cleve would consume himself with art shows from 8 a.m. to midnight.
"Cleve Carney had a disease — not the disease that killed him — he had another disease that had him compulsively buying contemporary art. He connected to that art in a way few people do," Wight said. "He was a crazed art psycho with a compulsion to buy contemporary art wherever he went."
And so it's fitting, Wight says, that Cleve's legacy will live on at the COD art gallery bearing his name.
"What is more perfect than a Cleve Carney Art Space with Cleve Carney's collection of art that is housed in a theater on a campus that's called DuPage?" Wight said.
Cleve was born and raised in Wheaton, where his parents Marvin and Dorothy operated the Carney Bakery. He attended Dartmouth College, and later spent three years as a Navy lieutenant junior grade for the underwater demolition team stationed in California.
He is survived by three children, four grandchildren and a brother.
A memorial visitation is scheduled from 1 to 6 p.m. Aug. 18 at Williams-Kampp Funeral Home, 430 E. Roosevelt Road in Wheaton. A memorial service is scheduled at 10 a.m. Aug. 19 at the funeral home.
Contributions may be made in his name to the DuPage Community Foundation, 104 E. Roosevelt Road, Wheaton, IL 60187 or The College of DuPage Foundation for the Cleve Carney Art Gallery, 425 E. Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn, IL 60137.
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