ETHS weight room donor Michael Arrington reflects on career

Every year, ETHS honors alums who have made an impact on their communities, both while at ETHS and later in their lives. The Distinguished Alumni Award is given to members of different graduating classes, honoring their achievements and reflecting on the impact ETHS has had on their lives. This year, the award ceremony was held on Jan. 31, where seven alumni members were presented with the award. Evelyn Alexander, Class of 1954, Coleman Brown, Class of 1952 and Lenora Moragne, Class of 1950, were honored posthumously. Michael Arrington, Richard Pildes, Robin Rue Simmons and Ben Wolf received the award and spoke to community members and students about the impact ETHS has had on their careers and lives. The Evanstonian was privileged to speak to Arrington, Pildes, Simmons, and Wolf about their experiences receiving this distinguished award.

Michael B. Arrington, class of 1961, has been a fixture in Evanston for years. Arrington, an ETHS Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, remembers his time at ETHS fondly and was honored with the ETHS Distinguished Alumni Award in 2022 for his philanthropy to the community and school. 

“We had phenomenal teachers, so we got a very superb education. I went to the University of Colorado as a freshman, so I was more than adequately prepared. But the [ETHS] program that had the biggest impact on me was the sports program,” Arrington said. “I was in the football program for four years as the starting fullback and middle linebacker, and our 1960 team [won] the state championship. [ETHS] was one of the most diverse high schools in the country and our team was equally as diverse in terms of ethnicity and religion. We were an equal band of brothers.”

Following his time at ETHS, Arrington attended the University of Colorado for a year before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps and eventually finishing his political science degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Throughout those early stages of his life and career,  Arrington says he was inspired to succeed by the lessons of his former ETHS football coach, Murney Lazier. 

“Being under his tutelage as a young man, for a lot of us, was kind of like a surrogate father [experience]. He inculcated in us discipline and the desire to excel, achieve, expect victory and pursue excellence,” Arrington said.

Arrington remembers those tenets of his experience at ETHS and in the military as being the key to his successful career, as well as the inspiration for his latest philanthropic effort, the funding of the Michael B. Arrington Wellness and Performance Center.

[When] I went to the United States Marine Corps as a Force Recon Marine, which were airborne and scuba trained, we learned to work together as a team. The word failure was removed from my vocabulary in the Marine Corps. I had that [same] philosophy beat into me by Murney and then of course, again, in my three years in the Marine Corps,” Arrington said. “So as I started my business life. It wasn’t even a thought that I wasn’t going to be successful. As time went on, I just developed this mantra of ‘Expect Victory.’”

The words ‘Expect Victory’ are now displayed on a banner above the Michael B. Arrington Wellness and Performance Center, the construction of which was funded entirely by donations by Arrington and money he fundraised.

“I knew that the high school, several years back, had been trying to have various campaigns for raising money for a weight room. One day I was just curious about it, so I called Chris [Livatino]. I went over [to] talk to him and found out they had raised a couple hundred thousand dollars, but they really needed much more. So he and I went over and looked at Northwestern facilities for the football team. After I saw that I said, ‘Why can’t we have something like that, or maybe even superior to that? I came up with $330,000 of a straight out gift, and then I personally ran a fundraising campaign that raised about another $120,000 and that was to get them everything they wanted,” Arrington said.

And while Arrington was himself a state champion athlete, he sees the Wellness and Performance Center as a resource for all ETHS students, athlete or not.

“You have 4,000 students now. So every single kid in the school, whether you’re on one of the 31 teams, or if you’re just a PE student, you’re going to have the benefit of state of the art, world class equipment,” Arrington said. “So, to me it was very exciting because I wasn’t just giving scholarships to the school or something of that nature. I was doing something that affected every single student in school…Hopefully, it’ll be there for a good long time. That’s what excited me. I could have a lifelong impact on kids going through high school, because it had such a big impact on me.”

Along with his contributions to ETHS, Arrington’s other financial donations, such as for the construction of the Arrington Lagoon at Dawes Park and to the Chicago Boys and Girls Club, have been made possible by a long and successful career. At 26 years old, Arrington founded Arrington Travel, which grew “into a 550 person, nationwide travel company with offices in London” before he sold it in 1998.

In the decades since, Arrington has focused on real estate and philanthropy through his Arrington Foundation. As for his next endeavor, Arrington hopes to help expand access to college and vocational education for Evanstonians as a further effort to give back to the community he has remained a part of for so long.

“I felt that a lot of my success harkens back to Evanston Township High School. I was born and raised in Evanston, and my daughter and son went to Evanston Township High School. And my two granddaughters: one is a freshman in Evanston Township High School this year and the other one will be there in a couple of years,” Arrington said. “We’re steeped in Evanston.”