Major Donor Richard Barton cheers on runners during a race to support a cancer care center in Hinsdale.

Richard Barton stands at the street intersection, waving his sign and shouting encouragement for runners helping to raise funds for a cancer care center. 

Hours later, he's still there, cheering on the walkers, some of whom are cancer patients. He's been up since dawn on this October morning. 

Barton's framed portrait hangs in the Hall of Honor on the 17th floor of Rotary International's World Headquarters, among the other US$1 million donors. His was the 28th such gift in Rotary's history. 

But if Barton, a member of the Rotary Club of Hinsdale, Illinois, USA, had his way, no one would ever hear about his donation. Friends say he quietly volunteers for nearly every Rotary project that comes along and never seeks special recognition.

Rich was eager to get involved from the moment he first joined, says Rotarian Charlie Hartley. "Every time we had something going on, he volunteered to help. Rich is always saying, 'What can I do now?'" 

Working-class upbringing

Barton never expected to be in a position to give a million dollars to anyone. He grew up in a working-class neighborhood, where his father was a sheet-metal worker, and was the first in his family to attend college. 

With a civil engineering degree from the University of Illinois in 1964, he found a job building missile silos for American Bridge, a division of U.S. Steel. He wasn't thrilled at the prospect of moving from Chicago to North Dakota, where the company was based. He was excited, though, at the idea of being a field commander responsible for making sure the doors on 150 silos were properly installed and balanced so finely you could push them into place with a finger.

That job led to promotions that put Barton's stamp on some of the most recognizable buildings in the world. In Chicago, he was the construction engineer for the John Hancock Center, the Gateway Center, and the First National Bank Building (now called Chase Tower). He also worked on the World Trade Center in New York and the world's first welded-steel tower, the General Motors building. Later, he spent many years building roads and bridges, including many of those spanning U.S. Interstate 55, a highway that leads out of Chicago.

Now 65, Barton is the owner of RB Properties in Burr Ridge, Illinois, a property management and acquisition firm. Much of his real estate sites are "unloved" older buildings that "just need a little care and attention to be profitable," Barton says. 

Barton's million-dollar gift was intended to benefit both Jane Hopson, his partner, and Rotary - "the two most important things in my life." And he wanted it to be as simple as possible. His attorney recommended that he set up a charitable remainder trust, providing tax benefits to the couple now, but also to their estate after they are gone.