Lighting Up the World With Their Selfless Generosity
April 10, 2017
CHICAGO - Tom and Tina Grusecki would like nothing better in life than to light up the world with their own unique brand of selfless generosity and caring for the less fortunate.
The parents of All-BIG EAST women’s basketball star Jacqui Grant have made a significant contribution to Wintrust Arena in advance of DePaul’s 2017-18 debut in its new basketball arena.
The Grusecki family will have its name on the new arena’s hydrotherapy room and also name a locker in the women’s locker room.
“I’m very much a player advocate who wants to make things better for student-athletes,” said Tina Grusecki who played basketball at Niles West for coach Gene Earl. “The hope is that each Blue Demon passes something on to the next player in line.
“You always want to give back, and that’s what we have taught our kids. You want to make things in life better for others, especially for those in need, whether it’s contributing your time or money.”
Perhaps nothing illuminates the Grusecki’s Vincentian-like perspective than the spectacular light show that has made their Park Ridge home an annual holiday destination for thousands of people.
Three years ago, Tina and Tom wanted to make Christmas extra-special for their youngest child James, who was 10 years old at the time. As president and CEO of highly successful development firm Northern Builders, Inc., Tom had a pretty good idea how to organize this special family project. Tina was inspired by a childhood growing up in Lincolnwood and gazing wide-eyed at one neighborhood upon another of dazzling Christmas decorations.
They went all-in. The Grusecki extravaganza encompasses 126,000 lights with six different light shows, ever-changing views and music from outdoor speakers that can also be tuned in on 98.1 FM with your car radio. Multiple contractors work on the project and months of computer programming is required to synchronize the lights and graphics including a 25-foot high video grid. The programmer is a Pennsylvania-based company called Events Done Bright.
They put out a donation box, and visitors contributed $20,000 which the Grusecki’s donated to the Wounded Warriors Project. A year later, the doorbell rang and standing outside was a group of military veterans from the Hines VA Hospital who wanted to express their thanks for all the Grusecki’s are doing.
In 2015, they raised more than $25,000.
“It’s a lot of work and can be stressful as we monitor the whole show every night,” Tina said. “Just to see the looks on peoples’ faces makes you feel glad you put in so much time and effort.
“This year the proceeds from our donation box went to the Wreaths Across America organization that distributes Christmas wreaths to national Veterans cemeteries. We also made contributions to Misericordia which helps people with developmental and physical disabilities and Salute Inc. which supports those in the military along with veterans and their families.”
Tina was touched by the passing of iconic entertainer Prince in April of 2016, just about the time the family began planning for the next Christmas show. She suggested a Prince-themed light-and music show.
The reaction was remarkable. Visitors came from Minneapolis, Tennessee, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Indiana and Downstate to admire the purple lights, the “Love Symbol No. 2” flashing on the oversize video grid while a medley of his famous hits such as “Let’s Go Crazy,” “I Would Die 4 U,” “1999,” “Little Red Corvette,” “My Name is Prince” and “Raspberry Beret” reverberates through the outdoor speakers.
“The light show runs for four weeks, and last December on half of the nights, the crowd size averaged 3,000 people,” Tom said. “We hired off-duty policemen for traffic control.”
Tina said what it most gratifying to her are the families who don’t come from much and don’t have money to spend for the holidays.
“Bringing them to our light show is their Christmas gift to their kids,” she said. “This is a gift to us as well. It lets everybody in our family share in a great holiday experience. Our kids go outside and pass out candy canes while interacting with the visitors.”
Grant realizes her parents’ donation to Wintrust Arena goes hand-in-hand with their world view.
“I was honored that DePaul let me come here,” Grant said. “There was so much support, and everyone welcomed me with open arms. With all the success and winning tradition the Blue Demons have, it was amazing how they let me join their family.
“My parents were very happy at the way I was welcomed at DePaul, and it meant a lot that the school did so much for me. They wanted to pay it back, for sure. They saw a reflection of themselves in the way I was treated.
“My mom and dad are very supportive people who want the best not only for their children, but for everybody. They are so genuine. They care for you and want to help you out.
“The way they have raised their daughter is how DePaul raises basketball players. A lot of the things my parents taught me and the values they instilled, DePaul does the same for its student-athletes.”
Once a month, Tina makes sure that Jacqui goes through her closet and picks out clothes she no longer wears to be donated to the Salvation Army.
“I remember when I was 12 years old, it was around Thanksgiving and we brought a whole bunch of food to a Veterans food pantry,” Jacqui said. “I helped out, and it was such an amazing feeling that my parents did this. Part of that is my dad’s influence on our family.
“All of this has made me who I am today. My mom was a gym teacher who always helped kids be in the right frame of mind to succeed. I want to be a physical education teacher and a coach, and I can’t wait to begin student teaching in the fall.”
Tom said he was thankful for the way DePaul Athletics Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto and coach Doug Bruno made Jacqui a part of their extended family.
“Coach Bruno recruited Jacqui in high school, and even after she went to Illinois, we’ve kept in contact with him,” Tom said. “We’ve been blessed to have Doug as a family friend. We were fortunate Jacqui could transfer to DePaul, and the way she was welcomed by Jeanne and Doug made her feel like a part of the DePaul family.”
Tina added: “It was great to have Amarah Coleman transfer with Jacqui to DePaul. It’s not easy coming to a new place and trying to find your place on a team.
“Amarah is a terrific young woman, and having someone else to go through this challenging process with her was a blessing for Jacqui.”
Jacqui’s mom and dad were asked about their reaction the first time they walk into Wintrust Arena and see the Grusecki and Grant names in the facility.
Tom, the family comedian, blurted out: “That the check cleared!”
After the laughter subsided, Tom said: “We’re very proud and happy to be a part of it. We wanted to be there when we were needed and will continue to support DePaul in the future.”
“Most of all, we’re happy for the student-athletes who will have a wonderful facility to go along with all their hard work,” Tina said. “We’re hoping the new arena will help attract more kids to take a look at DePaul and make it their home the next four years.”
Wintrust Arena will become a part of the Grusecki family legacy.
“We’re blessed to have Jacqui’s name on it as well,” Tom said. “She is our link to DePaul. We wanted to give back to DePaul and keep the dream alive.”
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