By Burt Constable
It's the top of the morning and multitasking Dolly McCarthy could be wearing a dozen different hats. Instead, the sometime TV anchor and Naperville ambassador sports a pink sundress as she washes dishes, starts two of her five kids scrambling eggs and chats with radio intern Tim Jacobi at her kitchen table as he schedules celebrity interviews for her rapidly expanding "The Dolly McCarthy Show," which she launched in 2013.
Raising her voice to be heard above the din, McCarthy runs through a litany of charity events, for which she has raised tens of thousands of dollars and served as the emcee.
"It's organized chaos," she chuckles while sprinkling cinnamon chips on pastry rolls and popping them in the oven. "We always try to put a good spin on it."
That attitude has been with McCarthy since she was one of 14 children of Peter and Lucille Caravette growing up on the Northwest Side of Chicago.
"I'm the 11th," McCarthy says, noting that she's been asked that question so many times it could be the title of her autobiography. Middle class and deeply Catholic, her parents instilled in their daughter, whose given name is Delores Regina, a love of people and a desire to do something positive.
"My mom had 14 kids and she volunteered and worked at the church," McCarthy says. "My dad, his first question to us most every day was, 'Well, what's the good word?'"
Plenty of good words have come McCarthy's way.
In a proclamation declaring March 21, 2014, "Dolly McCarthy Day" in Naperville, then-Mayor George Pradel praised McCarthy as "a positive voice for our community." Praising her radio show, Pradel put the focus on McCarthy's tireless efforts on behalf of local charities that help families and veterans. Predictably, McCarthy insisted her day be turned into a fundraiser for Operation Support Our Troops, Naperville CARES, Kidz Kabaret and Bike Bald. The host of city events including the annual Sept. 11 ceremony and the St. Patrick's Day Parade, McCarthy "continues to exemplify all that is good about Naperville," Pradel concluded.
McCarthy discovered firsthand just how good Naperville could be. She says reduced income in the wake of her divorce led to the devastating loss of her 5,500-square-foot "little McMansion," the shocking need for food stamps, and the emotional turmoil of driving her Mercedes with the vanity "Dolly" license plates to the local food pantry. The celebrity so passionate about highlighting the work of "a lot of good people doing good things" needed help.
A part-time anchor for CLTV, McCarthy anchored the Sunday night news in Chicago and added a new gig on the morning show at a station in Rockford.
"The security guard would let me in the green room, and I'd sleep at WGN. At 2 in the morning, the security guy would wake me up and I'd drive to Rockford," she remembers. The woman sometimes called "the happy face of Naperville" couldn't always put a happy face on her situation.
"There were a lot of nights I was crying and on my knees," remembers McCarthy. "Everything was collapsing. I didn't want anyone to know. I felt I was failing."
Help came while McCarthy was the emcee at a fundraiser for Naperville CARES, a local charity that provides emergency financial support and resources. Janet Derrick, the group's executive director, realized that the woman who had helped them so many times now needed their help.
"I just broke down and got real with her," McCarthy says, admitting that it was difficult to accept the reality that she needed assistance just to feed her family. "I had to own it and face up to it. It does happen to good people who work their butts off."
McCarthy's story wasn't unique.
"People know who we are and what we do, and we're grateful when they come to us and ask for help," Derrick says. "It's not an easy thing to do. There are so many stories out there. Things happen to people."
For weeks, McCarthy says she got help from Naperville CARES, the food pantry run by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, other charities and friends and family.
"I'm not financially back to where I was," says McCarthy, 46, who now rents the three-bedroom townhouse where she lives with her son Jimmy, 19, and daughters Shelley, 16, Rachel, 15, Caitlin, 13 and Molly, 10. "But that's OK. I'm happy, and my children are happy."
And she's getting happier about her career, which started two decades ago with WCIU's "The Stock Market Observer," hosted by longtime WGN anchor Jack Taylor. Studying at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago before earning her bachelor's degree at Northern Illinois University, McCarthy made several stops around the dial before spending six years anchoring for NCTV17's news programs in Naperville. She was in demand. "It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice," became her mantra.
Named Woman of The Year in 2013 by the AAUW, an organization that advocates for university women, and the 2014 Most Distinguished Alum of Mother Guerin High School, McCarthy displays her numerous plaques and certificates discreetly. But everyone entering her kitchen sees the simple "Laughing, smiling, and always having fun" sign printed by her daughter, Rachel.
McCarthy can be heard doing news and traffic reports for Chicago radio stations WGN 720 AM, WSHE 100.3 FM and WCPT 820 AM. She found out this week that "The Dolly McCarthy Show," which airs on WCKG 1530 AM, the Blog Talk Radio Network, Slam Internet Radio and the Touhyville Radio Network, is being picked up by the booming news-broadcasting startup Rivet Radio.
Having interviewed celebrity guests such as Vanilla Ice and "The Voice" winner Craig Wayne Boyd, McCarthy is on the road this weekend at the Country Thunder Music Festivals in Wisconsin.
Of course, she insists on plugging charity events she's sponsoring, such as the "Swingin' for the Vets" golf outing on Aug. 16 to benefit the Allen J. Lynch Medal of Honor Veterans Foundation, the Naperville Jaycee's Last Fling on Labor Day weekend, an Oct. 17 Comedy Night benefit for Kidz Kabaret, the Healing Field of Honor Nov. 6-12, and the Naperville CARES annual Toasting for a Cause on Nov. 16.
"I am proud of this town. I love Naperville and its people," McCarthy says. "When I speak, I speak from the heart."
That conversation now doesn't shy away from the moment when she needed help getting back on her feet.
"Through all your trials, you'll find a treasure," McCarthy says. "You have to look at the positive, and there's plenty of positive, let me tell you."