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Men of the Year 2017

From an entrepreneur who never stops to a South Sider who has taken the world by storm, these are the men who matter in Chicago right now.

Ryan Chiaverini
Host With Heart

Windy City LIVE host Ryan Chiaverini began 2017 by holding his mother’s hand as she took her last breath. The ABC 7 family rallied around Chiaverini, providing support and a monthlong leave from his daily hosting. During that time, Chiaverini dealt with overwhelming grief that he channeled in the most positive way he could think of: by throwing himself into charity work. “I wanted to be active right away and keep her memory alive,” he says. “She’d be proud to see some good done in her name.” In June, Chiaverini spoke at the Lurie Cancer Survivors’ Celebration Walk & 5K, where he also ran and organized his own team. In September, he emceed the Imerman Angels Wings of Hope Gala and put together a team for the Chicago marathon, with all donations going to Imerman. “I [couldn’t] run this year because my hip [was] bothering me, but we [had] an awesome team,” he explains. Music has also been a saving grace for Chiaverini, who often plays for charitable causes (on Jan. 12 he’ll appear at Woody’s Winter Warmup). “It has been a difficult year and a reminder of how short life is,” Chiaverini reflects. “Even in crisis, it’s important to help others.” –MK

Shot on location at the Gwen Hotel 

Brad Keywell
Eternal Entrepreneur

Given there are only 24 hours in a day, it doesn’t seem possible to do everything Brad Keywell does. For starters, the Detroit-area native co-founded Groupon. But there’s more: He’s created multiple other companies that have had a profound influence on Chicago, including Tempus, a technology company working to battle cancer; Lightbank, a venture fund investing in technology businesses; and MediaOcean, a technology platform for the media-buying industry. Mentioning that the 48-year-old is an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and also started Chicago Ideas Week is icing on the cake. Most recently, it’s Keywell’s work as CEO of Uptake, a predictive analytics company, that gets him most excited. “We’re harnessing machine learning and data science to predict what will happen in the future,” Keywell says. “It’s a world in which you’ll know exactly when and how major machines will break, and you’ll know what parts will be needed for the repair. It changes the game.” –JR 

Photo by Anthony Tahlier

Mitch Trubisky
Armed for the Future

Eyes rolled when the Bears traded valuable draft picks to move up and draft quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Jaws dropped when the University of North Carolina grad showed what he can do on the field. The 23-year-old Trubisky came in as something of a question mark, having started only 13 career games for the Tar Heels. But the rookie has shown a remarkable amount of poise, a cannon-strong arm and an uncanny ability to put the ball right between the receiver’s numbers—often while on the run. Although “Trubisky” doesn’t quite flow off the tongue (let’s just admit that his sobriquet doesn’t have the panache of, say, Joe Montana), the Mentor, Ohio, native has led the Bears with a confidence that doesn’t cross into arrogance. More importantly, Trubisky has brought the Bears something they haven’t had in a long, long time. No, it’s not just a franchise quarterback. He’s given them—and us—hope. –JR

CJ Rodgers
Role Model

In nearly five years at the helm of the pre-K through eighth-grade Dewey School of Excellence on the South Side, principal Cleophas “CJ” Rodgers has seen improvements to education that usually take far longer. Since his arrival, attendance rates have jumped to an average of 96 percent, and in the past year, the school was awarded a 1-plus rating—the highest offered by Chicago Public Schools. “I would not be sitting here today if I wasn’t afforded educational opportunities,” Rodgers says. “My vow is to make sure these students can hit the educational lottery themselves and succeed.” Rodgers grew up not far from Dewey and feels deeply connected to the community. The school, staff and students have all become family to him. And as a father of four, he understands family can teach him just as much as he can teach them. “I knew I wanted to come back and serve in the community I grew up in,” he says, pointing out that making the school a beacon for the community has been a team effort. “It’s the kids—they keep showing up. They keep dedicating themselves to excellence.” –JJ

Photo by Anthony Tahlier, shot on location at Dewey School of Excellence

Nick Cave
Creative Genius

Sculpture is anything but static in the hands of visionary artist Nick Cave, renowned for his performance art, large-scale installations and fantastic Soundsuits: whimsical, wearable sculptures constructed with twigs, synthetic raffia and other vibrant fabrics adorned with vintage objects. When inhabited, the otherworldly suits generate a range of sounds—some almost musical, others more alarming. “They operate as a form of armor, but they also adorn the body in a celebratory way,” Cave explains. Juggling high-profile gigs is old hat for the artist and SAIC fashion professor, but 2017 was an especially monumental year: Mayor Rahm Emanuel named Sept. 16 Nick Cave Day, for example. And Cave’s collaboration with architect Jeanne
Gang on Here Hear Chicago, which featured throngs of Soundsuit-clad performers moving through 300 tottering Mylar buoys, debuted to a delighted audience at Navy Pier. “Thank God I got through it,” Cave says. “It’s nice to sit back and reflect uponthe fact that we did it, and we did it well.” –TG

Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage via Getty Images 

Chance The Rapper
Music Mogul

Back in August, renowned artist and philanthropist Chance the Rapper found himself frustrated by an unsuccessful meeting with Gov. Bruce Rauner and the yearslong state budget stalemate that had Chicago Public Schools considering a shortened educational year and school closings. He announced a $1 million donation to the city’s school system, a gesture of support to a city that had helped him get an education (he attended high school at Jones College Prep in the South Loop). He has now helped raise more than $2 million that is earmarked for arts and literature programs for students as part of the New Chance fund. While he was at it, he received three Grammy Awards for his third mixtape, Coloring Book; was presented with the BET Humanitarian Award; bought out several showings of the critically acclaimed film Get Out at a Chatham-neighborhood movie theater so South Siders could see it for free; and curated and performed in a concert celebrating the end of the inaugural summit for the Obama Foundation. Some might say Chicago made Chance the Rapper. Now he’s paying that back tenfold. –JJ

Photo by Carl Timpone/BFA/REX/Shutterstock​ 

Richard Lariviere
Dinosaur Whisperer

Five years ago, Richard Lariviere, previously president of the University of Oregon, became president and CEO of Chicago’s famed Field Museum. Those five years at the helm have gone by in a flash, with much excitement taking place this year and into next. In April, the Field Museum led the way for Chicago’s March for Science (marches also took place in several other cities throughout the world), which was the largest turnout in the country with more than 40,000 participants. On view now: An exhibit featuring Etruscan, Greek, Roman and Egyptian artifacts, many of which have never been displayed before. In May 2018, the museum will unveil a cast of the largest dinosaur ever discovered. At three times the length of SUE the T. rex, this Argentine titanosaur will take up half of the main museum hall. What could top this year’s success and excitement heading into 2018? Maybe one thing: “I’m going to become a grandfather this December,” Lariviere boasts. “I’m ecstatic.” –MK

Photo by Anthony Tahlier, shot on location at the Field Museum 

Sean Connolly
Fearless Leader

No one can accuse Sean Connolly of being passive. After taking the reins of Conagra Brands in 2015, the 52-year-old CEO has led the company in a bold new direction. For starters, he’s taken Conagra—an $8 billion company known for tried-and-true brands like Reddi-Wip—into more adventurous territory with premium foods. (The company bought Rick Bayless’ Frontera brand for $109 million in 2016.) In another daring move, he brought the company’s headquarters from Omaha, Neb., to a modern space in Merchandise Mart. “When you undertake a transformation of that magnitude, you have to embrace change,” Connolly says. “Getting into a new environment facilitates that change because you don’t reside in the structure that houses all the memories.” But there’s more to the married father of four than Wall Street Journal machinations. “I’m a music fanatic,” he says. “My favorite up-and-coming artist is a guy named Jason Isbell. I saw him at The Chicago Theatre—he’s a fabulous talent.” Connolly even traveled to Nashville to see Isbell live at the famed Ryman Auditorium. Because who wants to wait when you can just make it happen? –JR

Photo by Anthony Tahlier

Ashley Wheater
Arts Extraordinaire

For Ashley Wheater, spending the last decade as artistic director for The Joffrey Ballet has been a triumphant whirlwind. His accomplishments there are especially remarkable, considering he initially turned down the job. He was content in his role at the San Francisco Ballet, but it was a trip to the Chicago Dancing Festival that made him change his mind. “I truly believe Chicago is the great American city,” he says. Since then, Wheater has helped pave the way for momentous opportunities for Joffrey. Last year, the company debuted a re-staging of The Nutcracker, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and set in and around the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. More recently, Joffrey wrapped its first-ever collaboration with the Lyric Opera with Orphée et Eurydice, and more collaborations with local cultural giants are on the horizon. Seemingly tireless, Wheater is working to build something with an integrity and longevity that will continue when he decides to move on. “I have been given the role of my life here,” he says, “and for that I am grateful.” –JJ 

Tom Ricketts

It’s nearly impossible to overstate the effect Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has had on Chicago. Wrigley Field has never looked better, boasting a beautiful new open-air park next door and myriad cosmetic updates. The neighborhood around the park is burgeoning. Oh, and there’s that whole World Series thing too, which ended 108 years of anguish for Cubs fans (not like we were counting). But Ricketts, 51, hasn’t made these seismic changes by being a cold, Machiavellian wheeler-dealer. People who know him say the Omaha, Neb., native is still the same affable guy he always has been. For proof, just follow him around on his patrols of Wrigley Field during games, chatting with fans and patiently posing for pictures and signing autographs. So if you see Ricketts, say hello—and thank him for all of his work. He’ll give you a smile, a handshake and maybe even a free baseball. –JR

Photo by Brian Cassella / ZUMA Press