This article originally appeared the September 2011 issue of Cleveland Magazine.
If not for Lainie Hadden, PlayhouseSquare might have become a sea of parking lots. A member of the family that owned the Grasselli Chemical Co., she helped Ray Shepardson raise money to save downtown's historic theaters from demolition in the '70s. But that's just one of many organizations the former Junior League of Cleveland president has lent her support to over the years, including Planned Parenthood, The United Way, The Musical Theater Project, Case Western Reserve University and the Hanna Perkins Center, a therapeutic preschool in Shaker Heights that stresses the importance of a child's emotional life. We recently talked to Hadden, who will be honored at a Sept. 24 benefit marking the center's 60th anniversary, about what she's learned from a life of service.
I don't know if I can say that I'm a person who's only devoted to giving back. It's just that all these great ideas come along that I want to see succeed and need support to do so.
Ray was obsessive in his mission to save PlayhouseSquare. My husband believed — and I think he's right — that it is only compulsive people who get things accomplished. I believe Ray had a touch of genius in him.
The Junior League was filled with great talent and brains. I think it's because this was before everyone had jobs and women felt they had to work. We were able to raise $25,000 for the project at PlayhouseSquare. That may not sound significant today, but in 1972, it was big hunk of money.
I think I was lucky not to be good at sports. Because I couldn't play tennis or golf, it gave me the freedom and time to explore other things and engage in city life.
When Nick and I got married, we lived in a house in Cleveland Heights. We loved the area. But when we were about to have our second child, we needed a home with bigger space. So we simply moved to the house next door.
I went to Vassar, but I thought it was important that people knew we had a great university right here in Cleveland. Case Western was building so many wonderful programs in the '70s. It was kind of like how professional basketball teams revamp and bring in new stars, and everyone talks about it. Well, Case Western was bringing in all these star professors, and I wanted everyone to know. Plus, I love being a voyeur about education.
One of the things I admire about Hanna Perkins is that they don't believe in drugs. I think adults medicate children more for the sake of themselves than for the sake of the child.
My husband said, "Every nursery school has children with problems. The difference is at Hanna Perkins there's someone there to listen to them and make their lives better." I think going to Hanna Perkins made my children learn empathy. My husband believed it was the best nursery school in America.
More than anything, people want to be understood. That's how Hanna Perkins makes children feel. They treat them like little children, not little adults.
One of my favorite shows is Hot in Cleveland. There was one episode when a character was out in Amish country. She says to this Amish farmer, "Why are you so content? Don't you want more from life?" Then she answered herself: "You know, I get so tired of wanting more all the time." I think that's one of the great things about Cleveland. There isn't that constant need to have to be so chic all the time.
I believe this generation will make great strides in saving the Earth. But I think there's something wrong about how they overexpose themselves. They let too much hang out.
I've been too busy living my life to consider my legacy.
Update: Lainie Hadden died Sept. 20 at age 88. The day before, she attended a Cleveland Orchestra show at Severance Hall — a life lived to its fullest. Read the full obituary of the bubbly philanthropist at cleveland.com.