From helping run the new family business — the Cubs — to helping achieve gay marriage in Iowa, she's here to play ball across many fields.Wrigley Field hours before an evening game begins, stepping at a measured pace, calmly and confidently, and greeting every Cubs employee she passes with a friendly, "Hello."
If the simple act of moving from one place to another could define a person, this stroll from the field to the owner's box is Laura in a nutshell.
She is unassuming in a way that belies her status — co-owner of one of the nation's most storied sports franchises and the historic field they play on; one of four siblings in a family of immense wealth; accomplished attorney; tireless advocate for nonprofits across Chicago.
And, perhaps most important, she is wholly comfortable with who she is — a mother and the only openly lesbian owner of a major U.S. men's professional sports team.
"She knows her mind," said her brother and fellow Cubs owner Todd Ricketts. "She's confident in herself. You feel that when you talk to her, and you feel it in the way she lives her life."
Much of the past decade of that life has been focused on advancing the rights of people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. In the style of the conservative Nebraskan family she comes from, Laura's activism has been subtle and substantive.
She believes passionately that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, but rather than shout her feelings, or even use her own committed relationship as a talking point, she has worked steadily behind the scenes with Lambda Legal, which filed the lawsuit that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Iowa last year. She also has been involved with Equality Illinois, a political advocacy group working on, among other things, the legalization of civil unions for same-sex couples in the state.
"She's a lawyer by trade, so she's very strategic," said Paula Taylor, who met Laura years ago playing in an LGBT softball league in Chicago.
"She has lined herself up with the right organizations. She's very classy, very thoughtful in her approach. She will not get up and rabble-rouse. She looks intellectually at the facts, and then figures out how the community can make the most progress."
Laura began coming out in her early 30s, after she had earned a law degree from the University of Michigan and begun work as a corporate attorney in the Loop.
"After a certain period, after a certain number of times when you keep falling in love with one of your best friends, you just start to realize what's going on," she said. "I think it was something I always knew in the back of my head but wouldn't admit."
She was raised in a staunchly Catholic household in Omaha, one of four children and the only daughter. Her parents — who grew their family business into TD Ameritrade, one of the world's largest online brokerage companies — instilled in their children a strong work ethic and an even stronger sense of family. The four siblings all wound up going to college in Chicago, remaining close even as they forged their own lives and careers.
Still, when the time came, Laura worried about how her family would react to her sexuality. Their response made her wish she had come out sooner: "My dad said, ‘You always hold your head up high and be proud of who you are, because I am.' "
Her brothers were equally supportive. The familial embrace of her as the person she knew she had always been set Laura on the path of living in an unflinchingly open manner.
It wasn't until she was in law school that the family business went public and catapulted the Ricketts into the ranks of the world's billionaires.
"When we were kids, we didn't have money," Laura said. "We didn't do much unless it was free and we could walk to it."
Fortunately for Laura, the Sunset Hills Elementary School baseball diamond was nearby, and by age 5 she was playing T-ball. A lifetime love of the game was born on that field.
"There are few things that give you as much pleasure as when you hit the ball in that sweet spot and send it out there. It's just an amazing feeling," she said.
Once in Chicago, the Ricketts children saw their love of baseball turn into a passion for the Chicago Cubs. Brothers Pete and Tom had an apartment on the corner of Addison Street and Sheffield Avenue in the late 1980s, and Laura would visit regularly to take in games at Wrigley Field.
"The energy and the sounds, the smells, the noise. I think it's the most unique experience in baseball," she said.
In 2004, when President Bush gave his State of the Union speech and talked about a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages, Laura began to pay more attention to the political environment.
"That's when I realized this is really a threat to me," she said.
"People were talking about trying to change the Constitution to discriminate against me. I just felt like I had to get more involved."
After researching activist groups, Laura decided to invest both time and money into Lambda Legal, a longtime LGBT civil rights organization. She also started working with Equality Illinois and the Howard Brown Health Center in Lakeview, one of the largest LGBT health care organizations in the Midwest.
Jim Bennett, Midwest regional director at Lambda Legal, said Laura quickly began raising money in Chicago and made a point of getting more women involved in the organization.
She accompanied Bennett to a Chicago charitable foundation once to ask for financial help. The person they met with said it meant a lot that Laura, who has contributed considerable money to Lambda Legal herself, was there.
Bennett recalled what happened next: "Laura's reaction was to say, ‘I imagine there are people who are writing checks for $1,000, and for them that is a much more significant gift than what I'm able to give.
You should want to see them as much as you'd want to see me.' "
As a Lambda Legal board member, Laura was active behind the scenes while the organization pursued its lawsuit in Iowa claiming same-sex couples had a right under the state constitution to marry. She and her partner were in the courtroom in Des Moines for the oral arguments.
At one point during the process, Laura's father, Joe Ricketts, asked her why she and Lambda Legal were focusing so hard on the right to marry, saying he didn't think that was a battle they could win. Laura was with her family in New York when the Iowa Supreme Court ruling came down. She received a text about it on her cell phone, looked up and said: "Guess what? We just won marriage in Iowa, Dad."
He smiled and congratulated her, toasting the ruling as the family had breakfast.
At first, Laura assumed she and her partner would race off to Iowa to marry.
"We absolutely thought we'd head to Council Bluffs in Iowa, get married and then have the reception across the river in my parents'
backyard in Omaha," she said. "But we realized it would feel a little hollow living in Chicago and not having your home state recognize your marriage."
That was in April 2009. Four months later, the Ricketts family finalized its purchase of the Cubs. Momentous as that late summer day was, it was overshadowed the same week when Laura learned she was pregnant.
"It was a bit much, almost; it was all kind of spinning," she recalled. "To have those two amazing things happen all at once. It didn't seem real."
At that point, Laura's life became a mix of baby and baseball and a search for ways to continue her activism in the shrinking spaces in between.
"I want to be there and be present for my child," said Laura, who, for privacy reasons, asked that the names of her child and partner not be used. "I want to be a mom, and I want to be the one that raises her, and my partner as well."
The baby was born in May and has become a regular at Wrigley Field.
There's an infant bouncy seat in the owner's box, and Laura sometimes brings her child to meetings at Cubs headquarters.
Her primary role as a co-owner and board member of the Cubs is handling government and community relations and the team's philanthropic work, which last year totaled about $1.3 million in grants.
"We really want to grow that," she said. "I'd like to see it double."
For Laura, one of the more refreshing parts of her foray into the sports world has been that nobody seems to care that she's a lesbian.
She feels accepted by people in the Cubs organization — from executives in the boardroom to ushers in the stands — just as she does with her family.
And she remains humbled, as an owner and a fan, by the responsibility of running the Cubs franchise.
"I feel that being raised Catholic instilled in me the line, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected,' " Laura said. "When you have millions of people whose days are made and broken by whether the Cubs win, that's a great responsibility."
Laura's hope is that by living her life, by succeeding in the high-profile position she now has, by returning the Cubs to respectability and raising her child with the same set of ideals she inherited, her sexuality will become a matter of no relevance.
"It's all about showing people that we're just like everyone else,"
Laura said, as the sounds of the game she loves wafted into the Wrigley Field owner's box with a late summer breeze. "And the more we're out, the more people can see. It's just not really a big deal."