Meet Our New Chairman Of The Board: Johanna Rahal

Since 1990, our Board of Regents has brought together prominent and passionate advocates for this mission from diverse professions.

As the Board of Regents approaches its 30th anniversary in 2020, we are proud to present this profile of the board’s new chairman, Johanna Rahal.

Rahal joined our Board of Regents in 2015 and served as vice chair for the past year. She follows in the footsteps of her predecessor and mentor, Joe Nolan, who served as chairman for the last six years. As vice chair, Rahal appreciated her time learning from Nolan while shadowing him and leading meetings whenever he was unable to attend.

“I’ve been the vice chair, on the Board of Directors, and the finance committee – attending all those has given me a broader perspective of the home,” Rahal said. “And I think opened up some outcome opportunity areas where maybe we can kind of move the needle a little bit.”

Life in the fast lane

Rahal was born in Chicago to a Hispanic mother and a father who was 100 percent Irish, which Rahal said left little room for debate when it came to religion.

“I was Catholic by no choice,” she joked.

Rahal attended Northern Illinois University and completed her studies at Northwestern University. She then moved to Southern California where she began her professional career working as an actuary. She eventually transitioned into the financial sector, where she sold and underwrote loans, and worked in marketing and product development.

It’s also in California where Rahal was first introduced to auto racing when her company signed star driver Danica Patrick. Though Rahal is married to Indy racing legend Bobby Rahal, who won the 1986 Indianapolis 500, she was not a car enthusiast from the get-go.

“I thought there was air in the tires and gas in the car,” she remembers. “And they told me methanol and nitrogen, and I was like, ‘that’s a bomb. Why do people get in there?’”

But through her inquisitive nature, Rahal started to put the nuts and bolts together. Within three months of being introduced to the sport, she was giving garage tours. She began to appreciate the nuances of racing as well.

“I myself thought it was an individual sport, but it really is a team sport,” she said. “I think until you experience it, you don’t really realize it.”

“…seeing the mission of Mercy and how they’re helping improve and rescue the lives of the kids that they have at the home was pretty amazing.”

Family comes in first

After eight years in California, Rahal moved back to Chicago and continued to work in the finance world. She shifted her professional career, however, when she began working for the racing team her husband co-owns with TV icon David Letterman and entrepreneur Mike Lanigan, taking over sponsorship sales and marketing.

As Rahal started her family, she decided that would be her full-time job and she took a step back from her position with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

While she remains involved with the team, she jokes that it is more of a hobby for her and her husband. The couple has expanded their business profile to selling cars, owning 18 dealerships in the state of Pennsylvania. It is through the dealerships that she and her husband connected to Mercy Home.

Driving Home

Many years back, Mercy Home reached out to Bobby Rahal through his Jaguar dealership to see if he would be interested in making an appearance the night before our annual Ringside for Mercy’s Sake black-tie fundraising gala. He graciously accepted, and the following night he and Johanna attended the event with their colleagues from Jaguar.

The next year, Bobby served as the sponsorship chair at Ringside. Though Bobby’s schedule made it difficult for him to commit to Mercy Home’s Board, Johanna decided that she would get more involved with the Home. For her, she felt the mission on a personal level.

Rahal’s parents first met at Maryville Academy in Des Plaines, IL.

“I had that in my past with my family, so it was pretty close to heart,” she explained. “So seeing the mission of Mercy and how they’re helping improve and rescue the lives of the kids that they have at the home was pretty amazing.”

Taking the Wheel

As she prepares to help steer that mission toward the future in her new role as Chairman of the Board of Regents, Rahal said she is honored to work alongside Fr. Scott and eager to engage her fellow board members to be at the forefront of supporting new initiatives and projects.

“They say it takes a village,” she said. “Our board resume is quite impressive, and I think it would be a shame not to leverage the opportunity.”

She enters the role motivated by the examples of past chairmen and encouraged by the mentorship of outgoing chairman Joe Nolan.

“Joe is great!,” Rahal said reflecting on her time as the board’s first-ever vice chairman. She attended every meeting, took copious notes, and asked lots of questions. “Joe took the time, lent his experience, knowledge and information,” she said, adding that Nolan will remain in her speed dial going forward.

She said Nolan always encouraged her to have open dialogue, which provided the most fertile ground for new ideas. She added that she looks forward to having many open conversations with her fellow board members.

Rahal hopes her example as board chair can also inspire others. As a person with a diverse background she always believed in her abilities and the preparedness that comes from hard work. “We speak of diversity and equality and it’s nice to see when hard work and your passion for the cause are celebrated,” Rahal said.

“…that Mercy Home is right here in our city, saving children from whatever their situation may have been. And then not only just saving them, but also providing them with opportunities…”

The Event Circuit  

As board chair, Rahal will also continue to play a leading role in helping our annual series of fundraising events succeed for the benefit of our young people. Whether it’s championing Ringside as the event chair, riding our March for Kids float in the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade, or even dealing black jack at Poker Night, Rahal goes all in for our kids.

But there is one event in particular where Rahal is really able to see and experience the results of the mission.

“The Graduate’s Luncheon is one of my favorite events to go to, because of the stories,” she said.

“I always bring a table and they’re just amazed that Mercy Home is right here in our city, saving children from whatever their situation may have been. And then not only just saving them, but also providing them with opportunities – taking it a step further.” Optimistic

Rahal’s professional experience, dedication, and passion for the mission have been a tremendous blessing to our Home. We are so grateful to her for all of her hard work over the years and we are hopeful about our future as she leads our board’s efforts in support of our young people.

“The bottom line is helping the youth of our city and continuing to make a difference in their lives,” she concluded. “And by no small amount, they will continue to make a difference in our lives as well.”