Quintessential people

George Yapp: The Quiet Force of Nature


by David Rutter | Photo: thomas balsamo

George Yapp was 10 years old and remembers lessons taught at his Kansas family’s dinner table. It’s 1944. Barely yesterday.

“I knew my family was middle class and maybe less. I had one pair of high-top shoes, and I polished them before I went to church on Sunday,” he says now, 82 years into his life odyssey. “But my mom and dad made us kids feel like we had everything.”

His Welsh immigrant farm family disowned his dad, Rockford Glenn Yapp, because he wouldn’t farm the back 40. He ran off to college in Manhattan, Kan. “But he graduated, and then he was the family hero,” George says.

Rockford Yapp not only became the Kansas state etymologist (yes, studying prairie insects and orchard operations) but also a professor of etymology at K-State.

Thus, George Yapp grew to manhood in a home of polished, articulated standards. Not harsh rules, but caring, human values. Says George: “He taught us honestly, integrity, fairness. He was a man of deep ethics. We talked about those things a lot sitting around the dinner table.” In many ways, that long-ago blueprint made George Yapp.

And who is that?

Every vibrant community has human forces of nature. You often recognize the powerful style as much as the result. But none act much like Yapp, and that might perplex you. He is one of Barrington’s civic forces of nature. The objective record—particularly 48 years as a Barringtonian—proves that.

But he’s the hurricane who speaks in whispers. He’s embarrassed by attention on himself, but for odd reasons unrelated to shyness. He doesn’t think he’s done enough exciting or interesting things to be worth anyone’s attention, even if he wanted attention. “I’m not sure I’ve given you anything really to write about,” he says after an interview.

It’s the only aspect of Yapp’s universe he fundamentally misunderstands. Of the several hundred meaningful people in Barrington’s history, he most certainly is one of them.

That fact was cemented in 1998 when he, Norval Stephens, and five other citizens of note founded the Barrington Area Community Foundation. Yapp has been the president for the past two years, and the organization bears every human and management mark of his 35 years as a Quaker Oats executive—20 years as a senior executive, corporate officer, six years running the company’s United Kingdom operations, and six years as a division president. As he once built Quaker, now he builds Barrington.

The Foundation has given voice and form to the village’s deep philanthropic instincts and created a perpetual bank account for good works. The foundation’s interventions changed the village’s social culture. That contribution will continue as long as the Foundation replenishes the humanity that Yapp built into its management DNA.

“The goal was to meet unmet needs in the community,” he says, “and build an endowment so we give only the earnings. We gave out $100,000 in 2000. This year we granted $208,000. Since inception, we’ve given out over $1.5 million.” Yapp has helped build a self-perpetuating engine to help others build theirs, like GiGi’s Playhouse.

GiGi’s Playhouse was invented by a mother’s love for her young daughter with Down’s syndrome. GiGi’s teaches achievement, acceptance, and success for children. With Foundation support, Gigi’s has spread to 31 cities as the most prolific Down’s life-skills project for children in the country.

Yapp also helped raise $18 million for a local hospice facility. That investment guarantees dignity in life’s last moments. “The Foundation is a success because of the huge philanthropic atmosphere here,” he says. “There are so many people willing to help, and all you have to do is ask.” He spent more than 25 years supporting Hospice as a board member, president of the hospice Foundation, and currently is designated as one of four Lifetime Trustees.

In Yapp’s youth, community mattered to mom and dad. Rockford and Lena, too, were builders. Their six surviving children would well learn the lessons of service and dignity. “All of my brothers and sisters became significant people in their communities. They all graduated from college, and my father was the first person in his family to go to college.”

A sister, Virginia Yapp Trotter, was the Secretary of Education in the Nixon and Ford administrations.

Rockford died when George was 14. The memory of lost years they could have shared less haunts George as inspires him. That tilt toward service as a life choice drew Yapp to Quaker Oats as he exited Kansas State.

“I worked for them for five weeks when I got the call summoning me to the Air Force,” he recalls. Yapp was recognized as an Air Force ROTC Distinguished Graduate and later as a Distinguished KSU Alumnus—and the Air Force wanted pilots.

So he ferried cargo and American troops around Europe for several years, and then faced a choice. He could take a full commission, and fly B-47 strategic jet bombers. They were sleek supersonic killers built to deliver nuclear Armageddon to the Soviets.

He picked home. Back to Quaker. He would build, rather than bomb.

And luckily, there was Charlene “Charlie” Brooks. They were high school sweethearts and shared 47 years of marriage. “She was a wonderful person,” he says. “We had a fabulous marriage.” Their joyous union produced Jeff, Nancy, Steven, and Roger. “They’re all gainfully employed,” says dad with a laugh. But Charlie’s decade of chronic health conditions eventually confronted a wall. Her chronic lymphocytic leukemia turned aggressive. Eight months later in 2003, she was gone.

Yapp is a quiet man, tempered by life and loss, and shaped by modesty.

But mark him well. He is afraid there is not much substantial enough for anyone to think he is special. But, of course, he’s wrong about that. Even forces of nature can make mistakes.

Here are some words that others shared about george yapp.

Sarah J. Bealles, Colleague

I came to know George through my role as president and CEO of JourneyCare, but I also count him as a friend. George is a long-time supporter of JourneyCare in many capacities: as a board member, as a donor, as a capital campaign chair, and as a community ambassador. George’s work enabled us to realize our vision of building a home-like, state-of-the-art Hospice CareCenter for the Barrington community and ensuring access to the highest quality palliative and end-of-life care for our community.

George is one of the most genuine people I have had the pleasure of knowing. He is a tough businessman who takes his responsibilities seriously, yet it all comes out of love for people and for his community. Even though George isn’t currently a voting member of the JourneyCare Board, when we have tough Board discussions, Board members sometimes say they are “channeling George Yapp,” meaning they are bringing up a tough subject that others may be afraid to broach. George doesn’t skirt the issues. He always brings them to light. He asks tough questions and expects results.

Kim Duchossois, Colleague

This is a bit of a love letter. George was introduced to my world nearly 20 years ago. But frankly, clearly upstaged by his ever-so-adored and popular bride, Charlie, whom everyone knew and loved. I was younger than their fun group, but older than Charlie and George’s big tribe. Therefore, I had more peripheral vision with the man and his family than direct engagement, for a while.

I remember in the ‘90s—as a fellow founding Barrington Area Community Foundation member —wondering if George might have just personally “owned” Quaker Oats! (You really did, right George?)

Fast forward through my favorite passion: learning from those in my orbit. As a colleague in community work, I was quite privileged to closely observe George, mesmerized by his remarkably even, gentle, impeccably responsible demeanor. Consistently, in all settings, George delivers a forthcoming, extremely thoughtful perspective of substance. Wasn’t ever about George, or his personal need to be heard—whether co-leading the Pepper Hospice Home campaign, steering committee leadership for Good Shepherd Hospital’s Modernization Campaign, or successfully steadying eager cohorts from premature leaps—his insightful eye never blinks on consequences, the core mission, and a determination to secure the very best end product.

An asset to any project leadership wise enough to have recruited this soul, George is meticulous and diligent in every commitment. Organizationally, I study his seasoned methodical process and pray for osmosis!

Sounds as though George might take life seriously. Well he does, every day, with abundant gratitude expressed for his blessings. Losing a matriarch and beloved wife in life far too early changes perspective. We are all in an exceptional community for this pillar amongst us. I am deeply honored to pay such long-deserved homage to a significant mentor and dear, dear friend.

Thomas Z. Hayward Jr., Friend

Sally and I first met George and his late wife, Charlie, in the late 1960s when we both moved to Barrington. Our two families became and are good friends. We had the pleasure of having all four Yapp children work for us at one time or another in various capacities. Nancy Yapp, while attending school in Barrington, helped Sally raise our three boys.

George enjoyed a significant career at Quaker Oats Company and served in several senior management positions. During the time that he was in charge of Quaker Oats in the U.K., we were the surrogate family in the United States.

After retiring from Quaker Oats, George turned his proven quality of leadership and dedication to helping the greater Barrington community; which includes leadership of JourneyCare and the Community Foundation. He is also involved in supporting several other community efforts.

It is a pleasure for me to salute my good friend George Yapp. Thank you for recognizing one of our community leaders for a job well done.

Nancy Hebert, Daughter

The most valuable thing Dad passed on to his children was the importance of family. Dad was an amazing husband to our mother, Charlie. They were married for 47 years, but mom suffered a brain aneurysm after 23 years of marriage followed by many other life-threatening illnesses, which she valiantly battled through with George always by her side. He was her biggest advocate and never wavered in his steadfast love, support, and devotion.

Dad taught us the value of hard work. He would work all day, come home, have dinner with us, and then head to his home office to work more. But he always had time for his children. I still speak to Dad every day for a little inspiration or advice. Dad taught us all a love for travel. He made sure we saw every major attraction in the U.S.A. As we got older, he started showing us the rest of the world. When we were young, all six of us would pile into the car and Dad would drive cross country stopping at the nation’s landmark attractions. Even if it was 2 a.m., we would all jump out and take pictures to say we had been there. He passed this love to travel onto his 14 grandchildren and has generously taken his extended family on our most memorable trips.

Dad loves Barrington and built his home so he could take care of mom and we could all stay together whenever family members would visit. To this day, staying at Grandpa’s is one of my family’s favorite things to do. We have not missed a Christmas in Barrington in 22 years!

Paul Hills, Friend

A frequent traveler, George is a worldly and sharp-minded man. George is a close friend and has the demeanor of a Southern gentleman. He is loyal to everyone, including his family, and the community, through the tireless work he puts forth for philanthropy. He is a man who regularly moves the needle for community causes. I’m proud to call him a close friend.

Frank Konicek, Friend

Marimarie and I have been residents of Barrington Hills since 1969 and George, Charlie, and their children were one of the families that we “grew up with” having children of the same ages. The trials and tribulations of raising large families were shared and discussed outside the public venue. The vast majority of our memories are, however, of warm, friendly holiday dinners, ski trips to Park City, Utah, needed support during family illness, calls and notes of support, and congratulations for children’s successes and pursuit of careers in their early adult lives.

George has continued this support and has extended and applied his many talents to supporting the Barrington Hills community and its efforts to provide services for those in need and maintaining a community atmosphere that attracts and welcomes all residents.

Congratulations to George on this well-deserved honor as the Quintessential People Honoree for November/December 2016.

Karen Lambert, Colleague

I have had the pleasure of knowing George Yapp for the last several years. I had always heard about the “wonderful George Yapp” and then had the privilege to get to know him better when I joined the Barrington Area Community Foundation Board. Later, George became a founding member of the Advocate Good Shepherd Campaign Steering Committee where I continued to appreciate George’s natural leadership. He is always thoughtful, strategic, generous, full of integrity, gracious, and a dedicated family man. He has a passion for our town and a desire to keep it strong. George brings his tremendous background and experience to any organization he is involved with. I have learned so much from George, from skillfully leading a meeting to keeping his big, extended family front and center in his life. And I have to admit, I always look forward to his greeting, “Hi Hon.” It is my privilege to call George Yapp my friend.

Eric Leininger, Prof., Kellogg School of Management

I first met George at Quaker Oats, when he was president of the Pet Foods Division and I was coming up the managerial ranks. Before I met him, I was very aware of George because my colleagues who worked in George’s division were so respectful of him and motivated by him.

George was a role model to people of my generation at Quaker Oats. He held high performance standards and you had to deliver the results you promised. At the same time, he was always a gentleman and related to everyone at every level in a very human way. George built a strong personal connection with people in what seemed to be an effortless manner. He didn’t surround himself with ‘his people.’ He attracted talent from all over the company just by being himself and modeling an approach to business and to people that we all admired. He set the standard in our eyes.

George is a role model and talent developer. I can count at least six CEOs who trained under George at Quaker Oats, most notably Mary Dillon (CEO Ulta Beauty) Steve Odland (former CEO Office Depot and Auto Zone) and Peter Vitulli (former CEO DNA Diagnostic Center) and countless people who achieved Division President or Corporate EVP & SVP roles. An incredible legacy.

Dan Palmer, Friend

I have known George Yapp for more than 47 years. I grew up on the same block where he and his late, loving wife Charlie, raised their family. His son, Jeff, and I became close friends. Over the years I came to know his entire family well and the bonds of our friendships have continued to grow.

While I cannot think of sufficient superlatives to adequately describe a man of George’s character, a few that come to mind are loyal, hard-working, compassionate, helpful, giving, and fun-loving! George has been and continues to be a consistent source of strength and inspiration to his family and his friends. George shows interest in young people and goes out of his way to encourage them in their personal and professional lives.

George has enjoyed tremendous success in his life. His success is mostly the result of his amazing personal discipline, hard work ethic, and his balanced priorities. I remember “Mr. Yapp’s” car turning the corner at the same time nearly every day on his way home for dinner with his family. I also remember many summers spending the night at the Yapp’s home. As much as pre-teens and teenagers like to stay up late, we rarely outlasted Mr. Yapp! After spending some quality family time, he was consistently up late working in his office. George Yapp is a true friend and a heroic role model.

Freddie Pederson, Friend

I had known George for many years, but got to know him even better through our mutual involvement with the Barrington Area Community Foundation Board and the JourneyCare Board.

George is a person whom everyone wants on their board. He is a visionary who sees what needs to be done, and he gets it done. When JourneyCare built the Pepper Family Hospice Home, George, along with Jim Lancaster, led the fundraising campaign. The entire community rallied around his leadership to get it built here in Barrington. He is so highly-

regarded that adding his name to the project insured its success. That is the kind of leader he is. I am so grateful for his accomplishment!

And today George serves as the president of the Barrington Area Community Foundation, an organization that has supported so many of our wonderful nonprofits. As expected, he has been conscientious, organized, and inspiring at the helm.

George is a dependable, kind, gracious man. We should all be grateful for his generosity in giving back to our community and personally, I am blessed to have experienced his friendship, mentoring, and guidance.

Beth Raseman, Colleague

For over 10 years, I had the pleasure of working with George at JourneyCare (formerly known as Hospice of Northeastern Illinois). I worked with him in multiple fundraising roles, including the capital campaign to build the Pepper Family Hospice Home and CareCenter.

You may have seen photos of George in the press recognizing his contributions to many great local causes. What you don’t see are the early morning and late evening meetings dealing with the tough day-to-day issues that nonprofits encounter; helping to steer the staff, boards, and volunteers toward a future that was originally just the dream of a few visionaries like George.

George is tireless in building relationships that ensure the success of an organization and allow it to serve an ever-growing number of people. George is someone I could always count on for his clear decision-making and problem solving, but mostly his big heart and his generosity.

Norval Stephens, Colleague

George and I were founding members of the Community Foundation in 1998 and had known each other in civic affairs before that. What makes George special is his background. Similar in that we both were posted by our companies to England. Both had management and marketing backgrounds. I am a Marine; that means I am more focused on action; what are the problems and opportunities? My focus in business was in marketing, planning. There, we overlapped. His background then moved him into upper management; longer-term thinking.

When we are on the same team or problem or board, George has a perspective that causes him to look for long-term impact, as well as short-term results. What makes him special is that he will ponder and think and then decide. I might see immediate opportunity within a long-term plan. He will move from the long-term to what is needed now to get to the long-term outcome. He is a careful, positive part of any meeting or planning session. He does more thinking than talking. Stays on track. When he commits to anything, he means it. He will not let you down. He has your back. If he disagrees or has a different idea, he will let you know. If, after discussion, he says, “yes,” that is it. He has committed. I have never seen him be mean or small or deceitful. He is inherently a good guy. Good around men. Good and respectful towards women. Good natured in the sense of being morally honest with a positive, concerned attitude.

Roger D. Yapp, Son

George is my father and best friend. Quintessential—of pure and essential

essence—I do not feel there is a better word to describe my father and the impact that he has had on me as a man, a father, a husband, and the impact he has had on Barrington. At the very young age of 80-ish, he has boundless energy and a tireless work ethic in supporting Barrington, keeping Barrington as one of the top communities in the area. From leading the fundraising for the new JourneyCare CareCenter in Barrington, to being president of the Barrington Area Community Foundation, and going all the way back to leading the pancake drives for local Scout troops in the 1970s, George has never been anything less than 110 percent committed to giving back to his community.

Barrington is his one and only home. He has made the very conscientious decision to stay here year-round. Since moving here in 1969 (with a short 7-year hiatus to London for Quaker Oats) he feels strongly in making Barrington the best possible community not only for himself, but also for all those others who choose to call it home, and the many new families arriving much like we did 46 years ago. Many would have felt that one or two of his major contributions would be more than sufficient. Not George Yapp. Growing up in Manhattan, Kan., and losing his father at a very young age, taught him the true meaning of hard work and compassion much earlier than most by having to take care of his mother and siblings while attending school—to raising a family and supporting and nurturing all of us while moving across the country for work, and the many trials and tribulations the four of us put him through along the way, and always finding time for others. He never gave up and never quit on us or anybody or anything that was important in his life, regardless how tough it became. This was so true of the unwavering love and support he gave our mother her during her most horrific battles, being at her bedside during every step of the way.

I have been lucky to have him as a father and a best friend. Thank you for recognizing him for the many contributions he has made to Barrington, and to many others in his life.

Steve Yapp, Son

What makes George special? First, was his life-long love and commitment to our mom, his wife—Charlie. They started with very little, raised a family together, and achieved more than they ever dreamed. However, the biggest impact he had on me was his total dedication and commitment to Charlie throughout all of her medical history. Not once would he give up on her, doing everything he could to provide a life she loved.

Second, is his commitment to his entire family of four children, 14 grandchildren, and soon his first great-grandchild. Dad has had a huge influence on all of us, setting examples, providing encouragement, and the occasional re-direction when required. He has also lit the travel fire for all of us through the incredible family trips we have taken over the years.

My last mention would be his lifelong commitment to community. Wherever we have lived, both our parents taught us the responsibility to get involved, find a need, and to commit our time. I think he is setting a great example for all of us through his commitment to Barrington. I know he is dedicated to bringing positive change to the area in his hope that future families may come to love Barrington as he does.

DeDe Zwilling, Friend

I have known George for more than 50 years. Our families have been good friends and have shared many fun times together. My friends always referred to George as “St. George” because of his devotion to his late wife, Charlie. The care and consideration he has for everyone on a daily basis is beyond belief and is nonstop. He is genuine and committed to all that he does and those with whom he interacts.

George and I have been best friends since our spouses passed away over 13 years ago. We have put our social lives together, maintain our own homes, have traveled extensively to over 50 countries, and have really enjoyed our times together.

From a young age, George has always been a very responsible person. He has known who he is, what he wanted to achieve, and has worked hard to get there. George is thorough in everything he does and has endless energy. The most compelling part about George is his ability to make you want to develop new interests, expand your horizons, and improve as an individual. There are many men his junior who have expressed to him that they credit much of their success in business to George’s counsel and advice.

George values his family and being of service to others. He has a strong belief in philanthropy and giving back to many charitable organizations and opportunities of his time, talent, and treasure. Not only is George intelligent, but he is a lot of fun. He is a very special person in my life!

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David Rutter is a regular contributor to Quintessential Barrington.

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Publisher’s Note: Quintessential People™ is a heartfelt collaboration between our publication and portrait artist Thomas Balsamo. Our goal is to share exceptional images and words that ring true about some of the finest, most inspiring people in our community. For more information, contact QB at publisher@qbarrington.com, or Thomas Balsamo (Portraits By Thomas) at 847-381-7710, or visit www.portraitsbythomas.com.