CDEL's Cofounder Robert Michalak: Eponymous Visionary

In helping to found the Center for Disability and Elder Law (CDEL) in the early 1980s, Robert Michalak saw the need for an organization that would ultimately provide pro bono legal assistance to two equally deserving, but often underserved, constituencies. What he could not predict was the Center’s rapid growth thanks to the dedication of fellow attorneys who accepted his call to service and have since donated untold hours. In explaining the Center’s importance to the community, U.S. District Judge Marvin E. Aspen, board chair, has said: “Our CDEL volunteers provide the finest legal counsel available to Chicago’s most vulnerable residents.”

A few years ago in recognition of Robert’s role in founding and growing CDEL, its board of directors established an annual award bearing his name.

This year’s recipient of the Robert A. Michalak Visionary Award is the Honorable Edward M. Burke, alderman of Chicago’s fourteenth ward and the City Council’s longest-serving member. Presented on June 16 at the Center’s 2005 Volunteer Recognition Reception—where Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan delivered the keynote speech—this award recognized Alderman Burke for his distinguished career in public service and his advocacy on behalf of the elderly and people challenged by disabilities.

Echoing recognition of Robert’s achievements are SRZ founders Michael B. Roche and Richard T. Zwirner, both of whom are quick to laud his enduring role in CDEL and obvious leadership. This year, for example, Robert again chaired the Center’s annual fundraising benefit scheduled for August 3, the eve of the American Bar Association’s annual convention, held this year in Chicago.

CDEL is not the only organization to which Robert has donated countless hours. In addition to his involvement in numerous other civic and professional organizations, he is currently vice chair of the Illinois State Bar Association’s Employee Benefits Section Council, a position he will hold through 2006.

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