Stewart Greenebaum appeared comfortable as he walked past the rooms of gravely ill children at the pediatric intensive care unit of Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
But the ease shown by the wealthy real estate developer during a recent visit apparently belied his reaction when he first toured the center more than 18 months ago.
"I saw people [parents] who were scared out of their wits," said Greenebaum, president of Greenebaum & Rose Associates. )R "There were little children who obviously had life-threatening illnesses, and their parents were sleeping in chairs and on the floors to be with them.
"There were people who had been here 30 days and had never been outside," he continued. "They were eating their meals here, everything. If they had any money, it was gone.
"You couldn't be normal and not react to that."
So, along with his wife, Marlene, Greenebaum donated $800,000 toward construction of the Children's House at Johns Hopkins, an 18-bedroom facility that is to provide free lodging for families of children being treated for life-threatening illnesses.
The home-away-from-home, which will also include a children's playroom, library and outdoor garden, is expected to cost $2 million to finish. Occupancy is planned in 1992.
Despite the obvious need for family lodging because so many patients are from out of town, Greenebaum said, the idea actually started with a wish.
As a member of the board of Grant-A-Wish Foundation, which attempts to fulfill the wishes of seriously ill children, Greenebaum was touring Hopkins when the children's center director, Dr. Frank Oski, commented that his wish would be for a place for parents to stay.
Since he and his wife made their own donation in late 1989, Greenebaum has also worked to attract others to the cause.
Long-time friend Burton Gold, owner of Standard Plumbing Supply/Lee L. Dopkin, said Greenebaum took him on a tour of the children's center last fall. It was 11 p.m., Gold said, and, after seeing the facility, "I emptied my pockets."
Gold has donated all the plumbing materials for the new house.
"I saw the situation, with the parents sleeping on the floors while the children were being treated," Gold said. "I saw children lying in bed with no hair. Being a grandparent, it got to me. As I'm sure it would get to anyone."
William Kaczorowski, president of the Baltimore Building and Construction Trade Council, AFL-CIO, said he was introduced to Greenebaum by Sen. Janice Piccinini, D-Balto. Co.
Both men admit it was unlikely alliance -- in effect management and labor agreeing to support the same cause.
But Kaczorowski said he introduced Greenebaum to contractors and union workers to help bring them on board the project.
"We're working for a common good," Kaczorowski said. "The children and parents of these children are going to benefit."
Greenebaum said that when he started the project he was overwhelmed at the idea of trying to raise the additional $1.2 million needed to build the house. Then, he said, he got the idea that people might be more willing to donate their services than to give money.
So far, more than 55 businesses have donated cash or gifts-in-kind, such as the building's foundation, elevators, bricks and plumbing.
"I started out thinking one person could make a difference," Greenebaum said. "And they can, as long as they have a lot of help from a lot of people."
Greenebaum's vocation, of course, isn't raising money, but making it. As president of Greenebaum & Rose Associates, the 56-year-old developer has spent most of his life creating multimillion-dollar projects in Baltimore and Washington. The company has offices in both cities.
In addition to being responsible for several major residential subdivisions currently under construction in the Baltimore area, he and his partner, Sam Rose, are building the Union Center complex in Washington, which is expected to be completed in about a decade at an estimated cost of $600 million.
The company has just finished the second of six buildings there, a 500,000-square-foot facility to house the Cable News Network.
While Union Center is moving ahead with its third building, Greenebaum said, residential real estate sales in the Baltimore area have slowed somewhat since the recession. The company's three subdivisions in the Baltimore area include Greene Tree in Baltimore County, Burleigh Manor in Howard County and Shipley's Choice in Anne Arundel County.
Greenebaum said he expects at least two more years of a real estate slump but feels "optimistic" because his company is not burdened with heavy debt.
Still, Greenebaum said, "You can't walk through a rainstorm without getting a few rain drops on you."
Although Greenebaum made his donation before the recession hit, he said he isn't worried.
"My father always told me, 'No one ever went broke by being too charitable,' " he said. "If I were making the same decision today, I would give the same amount."