Inside an Eight-Figure Health Grant from an Unpredictable Chicago Power Couple

It’s been a little while since we’ve caught up with the Chicago-based Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Foundation. But as we noted in our original profile of this funder, its grants tend to be huge and headline-worthy. Today’s story is no exception to that rule.

Related:Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Foundation: Chicago Grants

Although we don’t know the exact amount of Patrick and Shirley Ryan’s latest legendary gift (it hasn't been disclosed), we do know it’s at least eight figures. Who’s the lucky recipient? None other than the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), which is now celebrating the largest gift in its 63-year history.

This Chicago power couple has secured naming rights on a few things around Chicago already, and this big grant will create the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. This will be the Rehab Institute’s new hospital worth $550 million and spanning $1.2 million square feet.

Something that may have appealed to the Ryans about this particular project was that this will be the first translational research hospital in the U.S. and promises to bring together innovators in a variety of fields to share their knowledge to pursue common goals. The hospital’s care will be initially focused on the brain, nerves, spinal cord, muscles, bones, cancer, and pediatrics.

The Ryans have a long history with this hospital organization, and they often gravitate towards familiar faces and long-term partnerships. The Ryans founded a clinic and web organization called Pathways back in 1985, and that will be integrated into RIC now. Shirley Ryan is also now joining RIC’s governing board, and she’s already the chairwoman of Pathways. So don’t be surprised to see even more family involvement in these ventures in the years to come.

“Both RIC and Pathways are so excited about this powerful union which joins two organizations with common values, purpose, vision and dreams,” said Shirley Ryan. We share a long-standing commitment to the advancement of abilities and, with this integration, AbilityLab and Pathways are poised to deepen knowledge, expand therapy and training, and spread global influence further and faster.”

On a side note, Shirley Ryan is a force to be reckoned with in terms of health, disability issues, and funding. Two U.S. presidents have appointed her to the National Council on Disability, and she serves on boards in Chicago for everything from art to global affairs.

Unfortunately for local grantseekers, the Ryan Foundation still maintains a low grantmaking profile and does not have a website to guide you towards potential funding opportunities. At the end of a recent year, the foundation reported over $23 million in assets and more than $8 million in total giving. But we can't help but notice, the Ryans aren't always predictable, and this year's figures make others pale in comparison. Traditionally, most Ryan funding has fallen into the categories of arts, education, youth services, and Catholic churches. But if this huge commitment and partnership indicates anything, we wouldn’t be surprised to see more big health grants from the Ryans and impressive headlines to go with them.