Shelby and Sybil Yastrow
Arriving at Northwestern from small Midwestern towns, Shelby (Weinberg 57, Law 59) and Sybil (Communication 57) Yastrow entered a world of challenges and opportunities that prepared them to explore new possibilities in life.
Sybil had been a high school “cherub” in Northwestern’s summer debate program, but she still found freshmen year to be daunting. “I grew up in a little town (Terre Haute, Indiana), and my school wasn’t that fabulous,” she says. “I didn’t have good study skills, and I almost had a heart attack in my first quarter in Evanston. I was so nervous because I had no clue how to be prepared for college.”
It helped to have good friends on campus, like the fraternity and sorority members who arranged the blind date that brought Sybil and Shelby together in their sophomore year. After earning a dual degree in speech and education, Sybil taught for two years, then left school to raise their children. Earning a master’s degree from National Louis University and a PhD from Loyola, she was hired as an administrator of a private school, and eventually elected in 1987 as the regional schools superintendent for Lake County, Illinois.
Because his siblings went to Northwestern, a sense of gravity drew Shelby Yastrow from Kewanee, Illinois. After three years at the Northwestern School of Commerce, he transferred to the School of Law, where he earned his bachelor’s degree and his JD. Serendipity played a role in his career shift. The father of one of Sybil’s girlfriends was the Michigan Supreme Court judge who wrote Anatomy of a Murder. The novel and the movie adaptation inspired him to become a lawyer. “I wanted to be like Jimmy Stewart,” he recalls.
Taking his first job at a Chicago legal firm in 1959, Shelby was assigned to work with a fledgling hamburger chain called McDonald’s. The corporation recruited him in 1978; when he retired in 1997, he was McDonald’s executive vice president, general counsel, and secretary.
The author of two legal thrillers, Undue Influence and Under Oath, Mr. Yastrow credits Dr. Irving Lee’s elective composition class with giving him “the spark” and skill for writing. The Yastrows are still close to their classmates and enjoyed serving on their 50th undergraduate reunion committee and the 50th reunion committee for Mr. Yastrow’s Law School Class of 1959. Two of their children attended Northwestern, and the Yastrows hope their grandson will too.
“I’m trying to convince him to apply to Medill,” Sybil says. “He wants to be like his grandfather and write a lot.”
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2009 edition of the Northwestern University Leadership Circle Newsletter.