The Maroons baseball team in 1935.
Photo Courtesy of Special Collections at UChicago

It all adds up

Careful planning helps an alumnus fund his philanthropic passions.

When the Gerald Ratner Athlet­ics Center opened on campus in fall 2003, Joseph M. Kacena, SB’36, MBA’47, had a front row seat. Kace­na—a former Maroons baseball player like Gerald “Red” Ratner, PhB’35, JD’37—had traveled from his hometown of Cedar Rap­ids, Iowa, along with his cousins for the spe­cial event. Although macular degeneration had limited Kacena’s capacities and he did not know Ratner well, he had said before the event, “I feel someone from his team should be there to congratulate him.”

Ratner and Kacena shared another tie: they were both longtime supporters of their alma mater. Before he died at age 94, Kacena established a trust that funded many of his philanthropic passions with the interest earned from principal. During his lifetime, he was a loyal giver to the Uni­versity for a half century.

A businessman who was well versed in finance and the tax codes, Kacena knew how to maximize the value of planned gifts to his favorite causes. He chose to funnel his estate gifts through the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, directing percentage distributions in per­petuity to a dozen Iowa- and Illinois-area institutions, including the College, UChi­cago Athletics, and Chicago Booth.

TIP: Designate your gift directly to the University’s endowment as a percentage of your estate.

Kacena strongly believed in general ed­ucation and praised UChicago’s balance of athletics and academics as key contributors to student success. He had fond memories of his time on the baseball team and was proud of his affiliation with the Order of the C, yet he referred to himself as “a poor player who was added to the team as a ‘project.’”

While Kacena may have lacked ath­letic skill, he possessed a keen aptitude for numbers. He excelled at mathematics from a young age and majored in mathe­matics in the College.

Music also inspired him. He played the violin as a youth, frequently took part in the Interfraternity Sing with his Phi Delta Theta brothers, and became a loyal patron of the Chicago Symphony Orches­tra and Lyric Opera.

Kacena, who never married, was de­voted to his extended family, becoming especially close to his cousins, who, like him, were only children. For many years, he traveled every other weekend between Oak Park, Illinois, and Iowa, maintaining residences in both states. He also took on the role of advising and managing some of his family’s trusts.

After graduating from the College, Kacena taught in the Chicago school sys­tem until he was drafted into the US Army. During the Second World War, he served with the 76th Infantry Division in Europe. In 1945 he was wounded in Germany and discharged as a major. He received the Purple Heart.

After the war, Kacena’s love of learn­ing brought him back to the University of Chicago to pursue his MBA. He entered the private sector and enjoyed a lengthy ca­reer as an auditor for the Liquid Carbonic Corporation, a global supplier of industri­al gases.

Friends and family describe Kacena as a humble man who empathized with those who were less fortunate. Kacena insisted that the beneficiaries of his generosity not learn about the details of his plans until after his death, so when he passed away in 2009, his gifts took some institutions by surprise. Kacena’s estate gift was certainly not his first to the University. But his skill­ful preparation provides annual support that is almost double the amount of his lifetime giving to the University—proof that careful planning adds up.

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