Press Release


Former Republican Congressman to highlight day of service and remembrance by attending reading and discussion program and reception at Newberry Library.

 CHICAGO – The Illinois Humanities Council (IHC) is pleased to announce that Jim Leach, new chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, will make his first visit to Illinois as NEH chair on September 11, 2009 to observe the National Day of Service and Remembrance.

Chairman Leach, who was sworn-in as NEH chair on August 12, 2009, served thirty years representing southeastern Iowa in the U.S. House of Representatives. He recently announced an expansion of the focus of the NEH to emphasize “Bridging Cultures,” both domestically and internationally.  In Chicago, he will be discussing this dual challenge while celebrating the distinctive American trait of social organization around voluntary community causes. “In our society” says Leach, “respect begins with civility, which has unfortunately broken down on important issues of the day.”

Leach will highlight the connections between the humanities and the spirit of volunteerism by visiting a reading and discussion group from the Illinois Humanities Council’s Meaning of Service program at 3:30 p.m. at City Year Chicago (36 S. Wabash St). He will join City Year Chicago volunteers in discussing the poem “The Same Inside” by Anna Swir and the short story “Fellowship” by Franz Kafka.

He will also attend an evening reception for Illinois humanities organizations at 6:30 p.m. at The Newberry Library (60 W. Walton St, Chicago), where he will make some short remarks on the importance of service in an increasingly global world and the need to respond to the challenges of globalization and other issues with understanding and respect.

Jim Leach is the ninth Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Nominated by President Barack Obama on July 9, 2009, and confirmed by the Senate in early August, Leach began his four-year term as NEH Chairman on August 12, 2009.

Leach previously served 30 years representing southeastern Iowa in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he chaired the Banking and Financial Services Committee, the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and founded and co-chaired the Congressional Humanities Caucus.

After leaving Congress in 2007, Leach joined the faculty at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, where he was the John L. Weinberg Visiting Professor of Public and International Affairs until his confirmation as NEH chairman.  In September 2007, Leach took a year’s leave of absence from Princeton to serve as interim director of the Institute of Politics and lecturer at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Leach graduated from Princeton University, received a Master of Arts degree in Soviet politics from the School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University, and did additional graduate studies at the London School of Economics.

Leach holds eight honorary degrees and has received numerous awards, including the Sidney R. Yates Award for Distinguished Public Service to the Humanities from the National Humanities Alliance; the Woodrow Wilson Award from Johns Hopkins University; the Adlai Stevenson Award from the United Nations Association; the Edgar Wayburn Award from the Sierra Club; the Wayne Morse Integrity in Politics Award; the Norman Borlaug Award for Public Service; and the Wesley Award for Service to Humanity.

A three-sport athlete in college, Leach was elected to the Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and the International Wrestling Hall of Fame in Waterloo, Iowa. Leach resides in Iowa City and the Washington, D.C., area with his wife Elisabeth (Deba), son Gallagher, and daughter Jenny.

The Meaning of Service (MoS) is a reading and discussion program for service volunteers featuring discussions that use short stories, poems and essays that reflect on the nature of justice, service, and related themes. Founded by the Illinois Humanities Council in 2002, it provides young service volunteers with the tools and opportunity to consider their desire to serve in all of its depth and complexity. The program currently engages close to 200 young volunteers at ten sites in Illinois: City Year, Public Allies, Literacy Volunteers of Illinois, Project YES, Neighborhood Relations VISTA, Asian Human Services, PCC Westside AmeriCorps, Notre Dame Mercy AmeriCorps, East St. Louis AmeriCorps, and Southwestern IL College AmeriCorps. In 2005, through the support of an NEH grant, MoS expanded to a nationwide program. It is currently being run by humanities councils in five other states: Ohio, Mississippi, Montana, Florida, and New York.

The Newberry Library provides a home to a world-class collection of books, manuscripts, and maps, and also to a growing community of readers. Our collections, spanning many centuries, feature a wide range of materials, from illuminated medieval manuscripts to rich genealogical resources, and from early printed books to the personal papers of Midwest authors. The Newberry offers highly acclaimed programs for serious readers: fellowships for scholars, seminars for undergraduates, professional development activities for teachers, and a variety of adult education seminars, public lectures, and workshops. Visit us online at or in person at 60 W. Walton St., Chicago, IL.

Since its founding in 1973 as the Illinois state affiliate of the NEH, the Illinois Humanities Council (IHC) has been dedicated to fostering a culture in which the humanities are a vital part of the lives of individuals and communities. The IHC creates programs and funds organizations that promote greater understanding of, appreciation for, and involvement in the humanities by all Illinoisans, regardless of their economic resources, cultural background, or geographic location. The IHC is supported by state, federal, and private funds.

For more information about the Illinois Humanities Council, visit or call 312.422.5580. 

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