Kevin Warren received the phone call in the middle of the night while in his hotel room on the Minnesota Vikings’ trip to Green Bay in October 2014.
The Chicago Bears President and CEO, then with the Vikings, knew what the news would be. His older sister Carolyn Elaine Warren-Knox had died of brain cancer. Warren’s subsequent trips to Green Bay always have been emotional with the memory of a woman 16 years his senior who was like a second mother to him.
That’s part of the reason Warren and his wife, Greta, stood on the 18th floor at Lurie Children’s Hospital on Friday in the middle of a hectic Week 18 for the Bears. Warren has plenty to evaluate as the Bears look toward the future, with decisions about their coaching staff, quarterback and stadium looming.
But with the Bears set to go to Green Bay to play the Packers in the season finale Sunday, Warren wanted to announce their latest initiative to honor his sister’s wish for them to help cancer patients. At a news conference, the Kevin and Greta Warren Family Foundation pledged to donate $1 million to Lurie Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.
The gift, Lurie representatives said, will go toward helping to ease financial burdens, such as housing bills and transportation costs, for patients and their families, allowing them to focus on their treatments.
Warren said his sister told him and Greta about children who took two or three buses to cancer treatments in Arizona. She challenged them: “Make the world easier for them.” That mission dovetailed with another bit of wisdom Warren often heard from his mother when he was a child: “You never see a U-Haul attached to a hearse.”
“I never knew what that meant,” Warren said. “What she was saying was give, give, and then when you think you’ve given enough, give more. Because at the end of the day, you can’t take this with you.
“Yes, I’m here to lead us to multiple Super Bowls. And yes, I’m here to build a new stadium. And yes, I’m here to build a culture and become the most fortified and strong franchise in the world. But one of the reasons why I work every single day and I’ll work to the very end is to be in the position for our family to create resources to give.”
The news conference Friday focused entirely on the Warrens’ donation, but afterward, Warren did answer a couple of football questions before a Bears representative announced he would be made available for the rest of the inquiries next week.
The first question was whether the Bears had decided to bring back coach Matt Eberflus in 2024.
“As we said all along, we just continuously will stay focused on finishing the season strong, (then) take a big-picture, methodical look at everything,” Warren said. “I’m looking forward to heading to Green Bay tomorrow (Saturday) and hopefully the team can keep playing well.”
In a follow-up question, Warren was asked whether he likes where the team is at. The Bears are 7-9 but have won five of their last seven games as they prepare to face the Packers, who can earn a playoff berth with a win.
“I’m very pleased with the energy of our team,” Warren said. “It’s not only on game day. It’s around the practices, around Halas Hall. Just the energy, you all see it in the locker room. Guys are playing hard. They’re competing. And so we’ll continually just build forward as a franchise. But I’m just really energized as a franchise where we are, with what we have going on with the stadium, what we have going on internally, just building our brand, and what we have going on with our football team.”
Warren also said he hopes to have more answers in the next few months as the team considers its options about whether and where to build a new stadium.
The Bears closed on the purchase of the old Arlington International Racecourse site in February 2023, but the project has stalled as they try to negotiate property taxes. Warren said he is “pleased with the progress we’ve made” and believes the Bears are “right on target” to make a decision within his first year on the job.
Warren started his job with the Bears last spring from his position as Big Ten Commissioner. Before that, he worked for the Vikings, and he and Greta made a similar donation in Minnesota to establish Carolyn’s Comforts, a children’s cancer emergency assistance fund at M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital.
Warren said the fund gave out its 1,000th grant in November. Warren looks up the beneficiaries of those grants if he’s ever feeling down.
“All I would do is open up my phone and read about the different families that we were able to assist with these grants,” Warren said. “And you realize that most of us in this room are dealing with issues that are only issues and not problems.”
The Warrens contacted Lurie when they were looking for a hospital to support. After they toured the downtown Chicago facility, Warren said they it knew it was the place to pledge not only their monetary donations but also, they hope, their time.
“Whatever we can provide to soften the blow on any level, we’re in,” Greta Warren said.
Dr. Robert Liem, head of hematology, oncology, neuro oncology and stem cell transplantation, said the donation helps the hospital’s mission to provide “family-centered care.”
“The gift will empower families to focus on what matters most, and that is their child’s care and well-being,” Liem said. “Families and caregivers are often overwhelmed with navigating the treatment journey. This gift will help to lessen and reduce the day-to-day financial burdens many of our patients and our families face.”
Warren also feels a connection with the cause because of the months he spent in the hospital as an 11-year-old after a serious bicycle accident. He grew emotional Friday when thanking the Lurie hospital staff.
“I’m just grateful for the people who have chosen this field to come in and help children,” Warren said. “I still think about many of the nurses and doctors who saved my life and the power of an encouraging word and what that means.”