By Jay Levine

(CBS) — Three years ago, Oprah publicly supported a school in South Africa with nearly a million dollars.

Some Chicagoans asked what has she ever done for Chicago? Our schools? Our charities?

It turns out quite a lot.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports that is why Oprah will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom Wednesday.

It’s the 50th anniversary edition of the freedom awards, initiated by JFK right before his death. Both Chicagoans who’ll be honored in Washington on Wednesday have close ties to the current President: Ernie Banks as a longtime friend; Oprah, an influential supporter.

Oprah left Chicago and her signature talk show two years ago, ending a phenomenal 25 year run that took her from unknown to worldwide fame.

Little known was the million dollar gift to Providence Saint Mel on Chicago’s West Side, which averted closing, by the sheer will of the school, its graduates and its community.

“I knew she was coming, but I had no idea that we were going to get that kind of investment in the school,” said St. Mel President Paul Adams.

And that’s the way it was with any number of things she did in Chicago, without fanfare or publicity.

“I am aware of numerous charities that she has invested in that no-one even knows about,” said Adams. “That’s true charity. I think she feels she’s on this earth to make a difference.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor. 500 Americans have received the award so far.

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