2015 Northwestern Alumni Medal Winner
Nicholas D. Chabraja
BA, Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, 1964 JD, School of Law, 1967
Most Northwestern graduates would be proud to combine service to their alma mater with a rewarding career. Nicholas Chabraja has gone even further, making distinctive contributions to the University while achieving success in two prominent professional roles.
A respected trial lawyer, Chabraja was a partner in the Chicago office of the national law firm Jenner & Block from 1975 to 1997. Shifting gears, he moved to General Dynamics, one of the world’s largest aerospace and defense companies, serving as its chairman and CEO until 2009.
Yet people in higher education recognize Chabraja’s name for a different reason. He and his wife, Eleanor, have provided significant support to the Nicholas D. Chabraja Center for Historical Studies in the Weinberg College, a thriving intellectual community of historians and scholars from across the University.
As an undergraduate, Chabraja chose political science as his major but says, “I spent a lot of time hanging around the history department.” He took as many courses as he could with Dick Leopold, an iconic teacher and distinguished professor of U.S. diplomatic history.
Professor Leopold “had a way of developing young students’ talent for scholarship,” remembers Chabraja. The two stayed in touch and more than 230 of
Leopold’s former students—including Chabraja—honored their mentor by endowing the Richard W. Leopold Professorship in American History in 1997.
Today the Chabraja Center builds on that legacy, hosting lectures, conferences, and workshops to foster ongoing conversations about the study of the past. Paired with their 2010 gift to endow the center, Chabraja and Eleanor’s recent support will expand graduate education and fellowships, student-led conferences, dissertation research, and undergraduate research through the center. Students across all disciplines will benefit.
The couple’s generosity to Northwestern has also extended to the School of Law, Weinberg College, athletics and recreation, the Women’s Board, and other programs.
A life trustee of the University, Chabraja has provided critical leadership to the Board’s finance committee and serves on its executive and Northwestern Medicine committees. He is a member of the Northwestern Memorial Health Care Corporation board and the steering committee for We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern.
Since retiring, Chabraja has remained on the General Dynamics board of directors. He is also a director of the Northern Trust Corporation and the non-executive chairman of Tower International Inc. He chairs the Council of Trustees of the Association of the United States Army.
Chabraja and his wife grew up in Gary, Indiana and live in Naples, Florida. They have three adult children—Michael, Laura, and Nicole—and eight grandchildren in the Chicago area.