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customers experienced when they walked into a Walgreens store was a di-
rect outcome of the beliefs on which Walgreen based the company
decades earlier.
The entire imbroglio started when Myrtle™s niece Lucille Norton”
daughter of her brother Paul, whose family had moved to Seattle”wanted
to attend the University of Chicago. She naturally moved in with the
Walgreens, who paid her $300 tuition.
All was well until she began engaging Charles in testy dinnertime de-
bates over socialism, communism, and “free love,” among other hot topics.
When Charles remarked, “Lucille, you™re getting to be a communist,” she
replied, “I am not the only one”there are a lot more on campus.” This
alarmed Charles. “Do you realize,” he asked, “that this means the abolition

nothing to f ear 123

of the family, the abolition of the church, and especially do you realize it
means the overthrow of our government?””all the things that Charles be-
lieved in most. “Yes, I think I do,” Lucille said, “but doesn™t the end justify
the means?”46
Charles became more concerned when Lucille said she had been ex-
posed to these ideas primarily by her professors, one of whom assigned Karl
Marx and Friedrich Engels™s The Communist Manifesto (1848) and another
who advocated “free love,” an idea far more shocking in the 1930s than it
would be when it resurfaced in the 1960s.
In hindsight, it would be easy to dismiss Charles™s fears as those of an
“establishment reactionary,” the kind of person who might support
Senator McCarthy in the 1950s. But in the 1930s, Americans”and espe-
cially students”were wondering if the American way of life could survive,
or even if it should. Unemployment was high, bread lines were long, and
optimism was low indeed. In a 1933 survey of 1,000 students attending
nine Eastern colleges, 50 percent said they were “willing to try socialism,”
40 percent were opposed to free enterprise system, and 13 percent favored
“communism and revolution.” One student strike attracted 500,000 sup-
porters, followed by another of 1 million students. The majority of
Americans were opposed to any involvement in a foreign war.47
Although we know how both the Depression and World War II turned
out, Charles Walgreen didn™t have the benefit of foresight. (The Bolshevik
Revolution in Russia had succeeded just 18 years earlier, while the Fascist
revolution in Spain was headed the same way.) Furthermore, Charles had
attended what amounted to glorified trade schools”for accounting and
for pharmacy”whose sole purpose was vocational preparation. So the
idea of high-powered professors espousing such beliefs was understandably
foreign and threatening.
On April 10, 1935, Charles Walgreen sent a letter to University of
Chicago president Robert Maynard Hutchins to inform him that
Walgreen was withdrawing his niece from the school because he was un-
willing “to have her absorb the communistic influences to which she is in-
sidiously exposed. . . . Why one of our country™s leading universities, sound

124 america™s corner s tore

and substantial in the majority of its teachings and activities, with its fine
opportunity for teaching and advancing a higher and finer standard of
American Citizenship, should permit, even to a limited degree, seditious
propaganda under the guise of academic freedom, is something I cannot
A cynic might point out that all business moguls are keen to maintain
the status quo because they have been rewarded so handsomely by it and
must protect the system to protect their own wealth. But that would not
be fair to Walgreen. His patriotism ran deep and stretched far back in his
life, long before he was a millionaire or even a store owner. In fact, patri-
otism was the second thing in Walgreen™s life about which he was truly pas-
sionate, the first being baseball. (His love of Myrtle came next, with his
passion for work emerging years later.)
Once the conflict was put in motion, it didn™t take long for William
Randolph Hearst™s Chicago Herald-Tribune to pick up the story and spread
it across his network of papers around the country. Looking at the docu-
ments, one senses that this embarrassed Walgreen, who was not afraid to
give his opinion and stand by it but was constitutionally indisposed to
making a scene. Just eight days after his letter to President Hutchins,
Walgreen responded to a woman who had apparently sent Walgreen a sup-
portive letter; he replied that while he “greatly appreciate[d]” her com-
ments, he merely “acted as an ordinary citizen in removing my niece from
the University of Chicago, for reasons which I considered proper. In doing
so, I unwittingly precipitated the general question of Communistic influ-
ences at the University.”49
But the ball was already in play. The Illinois State Senate set up a five-
man panel to conduct a month-long investigation of the university, cul-
minating in public hearings.
Once matters were in the open, it seemed that perhaps things had been
a bit overblown, due partly to Lucille™s interpretation of events. Although
it was true that one professor required his students to read Marx and an-
other made what he claimed was a joking reference to free love, the uni-
versity made a plausible case that the radicalism of the campus had been

nothing to f ear 125

greatly exaggerated”55 percent of students in 1932 supported Herbert
Hoover over Franklin Roosevelt”with many student leaders presenting
evidence in corroboration.50
For his part, Hutchins played the dicey situation like a pro, first defend-
ing the importance of academic freedom in order to soothe his professors,
then providing reassurances to outsiders like Walgreen. A member of the
faculty, Hutchins said, must be allowed to “join any church, club, or party,
and think, live, worship, and vote as he pleases.” But he added that “the
University would . . . dismiss any professor who, before an appropriate
tribunal, was proved to have advocated the overthrow of the government
by violence.”51
The controversy had been settled to everyone™s apparent satisfaction,
but Hutchins wisely didn™t stop there. To court Walgreen and to convert
him to the university™s cause, he enlisted the help of William Benton, a
wealthy Yale graduate who had recently retired from his advertising firm.
Benton established a friendship with Walgreen over several months.
Knowing of his passionate belief in the American system, Benton asked
Walgreen, “Why don™t you give money to the university to help the uni-
versity correct the defect which you feel is in it?” Walgreen replied that he
“would be glad to consider this.” He felt some remorse that the imbroglio
might limit donations to the university and, perhaps, that his concerns
might have been fanned by Lucille™s partially inaccurate assessment.52
Hutchins took it from there, enjoying long conversations with
Walgreen at the company headquarters at Bowen Avenue and at the
school™s Quadrangle Club. He also encouraged the CEO to visit any lec-
ture and classroom he wished, to see for himself the university™s mission.53
If Charles Walgreen was a master at converting upset customers to loyal
patrons, President Hutchins was his equal.
Hutchins™s efforts soon bore fruit. On June 5, 1937”over two years
after Walgreen first wrote Hutchins”President Hutchins announced
the creation of the Charles R. Walgreen Foundation for the Study of
American Institutions “to forward the development of good citizenship
and the improvement of public service” with a gift of $550,000 in

126 america™s corner s tore

Walgreen stock. “In establishing this foundation,” Walgreen said, in a pre-
pared statement, “I am not interested in promulgating any special view. I
do desire a fair and impartial study of our institutions. My confidence in
our way of life is such that I believe to understand it will be to cherish it.”
The next day, the front page of Hearst™s Tribune called Hutchins™s role “an
outstanding feat of academic salesmanship.”54
Part of Walgreen™s gift was earmarked for a lecture series by people of
accomplishment, including Walter Lippman, Carl Sandburg (a close
friend), and Archibald MacLeish. The foundation was included in the so-
cial studies department until 1958, when it was moved to the business
school, where George J. Stigler was named to head the foundation as the
first Charles Rudolph Walgreen Professor of American Institutions.
Stigler would go on to win the 1982 Nobel prize for economics and a
National Medal of Science in 1987 for his theories on public regulation of
industry. (Lucille, however, returned to Seattle to continue her education
at a local college.)
This incident did not directly impact the Walgreens chain”sales
seemed to be unaffected by the headlines”but it had everything in it that
Charles brought to the company: passion, conviction, and boldness tem-
pered by fairness, forgiveness, and, ultimately, generosity.
“The investigation,” concluded Robert Coven, in his 1992 article in
Chicago History, “ironically created a bond of trust and friendship between
Walgreen and Hutchins.”55 Hutchins would honor that friendship dearly
at Walgreen™s funeral.

charles™s demise

Although Charles Sr. seemed robust on entering his sixties, he knew he
would one day have to step down, so he starting grooming Chuck to lead
the company.56
In hindsight it was fortunate that Charles Sr. started the succession

nothing to f ear 127

process relatively early. In early 1939, when he was 66”“just getting into
the prime of life, when you can really enjoy yourself,” said the 97-year-old
Chuck”and his son was just 33, Charles began to suffer from an unchar-
acteristic listlessness. Charles™s annual physical showed nothing of con-
cern, so he urged Myrtle to go on a trip to Hawaii with her friends. In her
long-distance conversations with her husband, however, she sensed that
something wasn™t right and came home early.
A more thorough round of tests gave the family the very news it
dreaded: Charles Walgreen Sr. had cancer. Although the doctors and fam-
ily did not tell Charles”a common practice at the time”he seemed to
understand what was happening.
On August 10, 1939, Charles Sr. announced he™d be resigning the pres-
idency. “He asked me what I thought of being president, and I said, I did-
n™t think I was qualified,” Chuck said. “But knowing all the key people, I
had full confidence that we™d be moving right along.”57
The board elected Chuck as president. Because the family had not
owned majority stock in the company for years”the Fortune article re-
ported that the family possessed only 178,000 of the 809,000 no-par com-
mon stock, less than a quarter of it58”the board™s decision represented a
strong vote of confidence in the young man and, by proxy, his father.
“It was just like a family business,” Chuck said, despite the fact that
it was owned by the shareholders. “They all respected and thought the
world of my Dad and did anything he thought was the proper thing to do
in the company.”59
As the winter closed in and his condition had not improved, Charles
decided to try Christian Science; and although it didn™t provide him a
cure, it allowed him to sleep without drugs or pain. On December 8, 1939,
a cablegram arrived from his friend Rear Admiral Byrd, then on his third
Antarctic expedition, saying he and his men were sailing among the
South Sea Islands and wished Charles was with them.
On December 9, 1939, Charles Sr. told Myrtle how much he had always
loved her. The next day he fell into a coma and died a day later.

128 america™s corner s tore

At his funeral, his former nemesis turned loyal friend, University of
Chicago president Robert Maynard Hutchins, stood up and walked to the
podium to eulogize Charles, with touchingly simple affection:

Mr. Walgreen was the best friend I had. I suppose he was the best
friend anyone in this room had.
There was no bunk about Mr. Walgreen, no front, no pretense. He
was himself always. Simple, honest, and direct. So much so that he
even leaned over backwards and lied about it, to make you think he
wasn™t as good as he seemed from the outside, and to convince you
that he didn™t have any ability at all and that everything that hap-
pened was luck. He was very anxious not to have anyone feel that he
had an exaggerated notion of his own importance.
He really loved his friends. He didn™t just like them. He didn™t ever
form acquaintances because he thought he could get something out
of them. Mr. Walgreen never let anyone down who had any cause to
rely upon him. He spent hours thinking about business problems,
personal problems, domestic problems, the political future of any one
of his friends without any thought of reward.
If you take a simple, honest and direct man”a man who was al-
ways himself, in whom there is no false show or pretense, a man who
loved his friends”you have a man who must be the best friend of all.
He was our best friend. We shall not look upon his like again.60

Walgreen vindicated Hutchins™s praise posthumously, too, when the
estate attorneys discovered that in addition to his substantial gifts to his
family, the University of Chicago, and six churches, he had bequeathed
2,500 shares of Walgreen stock (worth over $50,000, or almost $650,000
in today™s dollars) to the Walgreen Benefit Fund. This, he had written,
was intended for “needy and deserving . . . employees without regard to
whether they are currently employed by the company or its subsidiaries.”
The Walgreen Benefit Fund surpassed a million dollars in 1950, and now
has many times that, to help Walgreens employees”even those who

nothing to f ear 129

worked there only a few months years earlier”in times of need, includ-
ing terminal sickness. The executors of the estate had also discovered
Charles had earmarked his $500,000 life insurance policy to start an em-
ployee retirement fund, now called the Walgreen Profit Sharing Plan,
one of the very first of its kind, called “a landmark in American industrial
Not long after Charles was put to rest, Chuck received a package from
Rear Admiral Richard Byrd. Chuck opened it carefully and slowly pulled
out its contents: a map of Antarctica. “Dear Chuck,” the Admiral wrote,
in graceful penmanship. “Here is the coastline I named after that great
American, your father, and my dear friend, Charles Walgreen. With it goes
my affectionate regards to all the Walgreens. Dick Byrd.”62 If you look on


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