150 Stories of Philanthropy: Kayak trip ends; fundraiser continues

By Jeff Wilson

Nejmanowski reflects on his journey, the power of the great outdoors

Seventy-three days and a handful of alligators later, Greg Nejmanowski’s kayak trip down the Mississippi River was over.

He dropped his kayak in the water in May at Itasca State Park in Minnesota, and it came out earlier this month in the Gulf of Mexico. The trip, called Paddle for Patriots, is a fundraiser for the Veteran Adventures program at SIU’s Touch of Nature. The goal is to raise $25,000, and there’s still time to donate at https://salukifunder.siu.edu/project/15565.

“It’s been worth it,” said Nejmanowski, an SIU alumnus, Touch of Nature graduate assistant and Veteran Adventures coordinator. “This trip has inspired me to continue helping vets, to serve those who served us.”

Other than a couple of close calls with recreational boats – including one instance when he thought he was going to have to abandon ship – Nejmanowski said the trip went well. Floodwaters complicated things a bit and forced one of his planned events to be moved from Grand Tower to Chester, but he said the high water also led to less river traffic.

“It went smoothly, but it was hard,” he said. “Had I not had an inspiration, a passion, it would’ve been much harder.”

The expedition started slowly, but picked up steam as he passed St. Louis. From that point on, it was mostly open water. Nejmanowski set up camp each night on sandy beaches, largely in areas inaccessible by land because of the flooding.

“It was kind of nice living on the minimum, and the simplicity of it,” he said. “So much wisdom comes from simplicity.”

Making a few friends along the way

The vast majority of the time, Nejmanowski was by himself. He did, however, have run-ins with a few alligators and several people along the way, including one particularly special family.

“It’s such a rush being in the water with an alligator, at their level,” he said. “They’re not really all that interested in you, but they will come check you out.”

As he neared the final section of his trip, he met the Leedom family in Louisiana. It wasn’t a planned meeting. They saw Nejmanowski walking by the river and asked if he needed a ride. The father, wife and son took Nejmanowski back to his kayak and along the way, they struck up a conversation.

“I told him what I was doing, and come to find out, the father was a Vietnam veteran,” Nejmanowski said. “He told me to take his number and call him if I needed anything. The next day I needed some water, so I called, and ended up having lunch at their home.”

The Leedoms asked to be notified when he was about to finish his trip, and Nejmanowski obliged. They were waiting at his final stop to help him celebrate.

“The kindness of humans, ya know?” Nejmanowski said. “We’re now friends for life.”

The healing power of nature

After more than two months on the river, Nejmanowski entered the final stretch of his trip. He took the Atchafalaya River through southern Louisiana to the Gulf of Mexico.

“It wasn’t something I could see for a long time,” he said. “I basically went around some trees, and then boom, there’s the Gulf of Mexico. It was so beautiful. There was the prettiest sunset that night.”

Nejmanowski is a firm believer in the healing power of nature. His kayak trip only strengthened that belief.

“Being outdoors has great therapeutic benefits,” he said. “That’s what Veteran Adventures is all about, and I wanted to put it on the map.”

The program offers outdoor activities to veterans, including hunting, hiking, backpacking trips, whitewater rafting and more. The program is funded through grants and private donations, and it recently lost a large state grant.

Through Paddle for Patriots, Nejmanowski hopes to not only fund Veteran Adventures, but bring awareness to the scourge of veteran suicide. According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 20 veterans die each day from suicide. That’s approximately double the suicide rate of non-veterans.

“I feel empowered as an individual,” Nejmanowski said. “This trip inspired me to learn more about what nature and outdoor experiences can do to improve people’s quality of life.”

For more information about Paddle for Patriots and Veteran Adventures, search for Paddle for Patriots on Facebook or visit veteranadventures.siu.edu.

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150 Stories of Philanthropy: Cybersecurity program booming

SIU Cyber Security Dawgs

Welcome to a series of stories celebrating SIU’s 150th anniversary.

A growing number of attacks on computer networks worldwide has increased demand for university graduates with expertise in cyberdefense and cybersecurity, areas that barely existed just a decade ago.

This call comes as no surprise, as cyber criminals now show increasing new levels of ambition and sophistication – from multimillion-dollar bank heists to overt attempts at disrupting large networks that support production efforts for critical utilities.

SIU has responded to this demand by offering a specialization in cybersecurity through its School of Information Systems and Applied Technologies, and students typically have jobs lined up before they graduate because of high demand.

A point of pride for the program is the Security Dawgs cyberdefense team, a student organization that gives students hands-on experience through participation in cyberdefense and cybersecurity competitions. The team consistently earns first- or second-place honors in the state’s annual college cyberdefense competitions.

Despite these strengths, the program is in need of financial support to help educate tomorrow’s cybersecurity experts and industry leaders, according to Tom Imboden, associate professor of information systems technologies.

“Investments in equipment and opportunities will keep SIU students in the forefront of the industry,” he said. “For example, we received a grant a few years ago to acquire a remote-access solution that allows SIU to host virtual machines with curriculum content. This gives our students all of the software needed to provide an environment where students can complete lab exercises for the information technology courses they are enrolled in.”

Upkeep to the servers is essential, but costly.

“Our servers are now five years old and need to be upgraded,” Imboden said. “New servers cost around $6,000 each, and they come with an annual fee of $3,000.”

The Security Dawgs also need support getting to, and participating in, competitions.

“Typically, the team has only three weeks’ notice informing them they are invited to compete in the state or regional competitions,” Imboden said. “Ensuring that we have transportation and lodging for 10 students is a challenge. These competitions help put SIU, the program and our students on the map.”

To learn more about the information technologies program, visit isat.siu.edu/. To learn more about the needs of the College of Applied Sciences and Arts, visit http://foreversiu.org/colleges-units/applied-sciences-and-arts.php.

 

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Delaney elected president of SIU Foundation

David Delaney – SIU Foundation Board

CARBONDALE, Ill. – David Delaney, a 1983 graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, has been elected to a two-year term as chairman of the SIU Foundation.

He replaces Susie Rashid, a 1987 SIU accounting graduate, who now serves as the board’s immediate past president.

Former immediate past president Roger Tedrick, a 1970 political science graduate, continues on the foundation board as a representative of the SIU Board of Trustees. Matthew Solverson, a 1986 engineering graduate, is the foundation’s new president-elect.

Delaney, who studied agriculture at SIU, said the SIU Foundation plays an important role supporting the university.

“The foundation connects the passions of donors with the needs of the university,” he said. “The gifts of alumni and friends support scholarships for students, provides needed funding for facilities and laboratories, and enhance faculty teaching and research.”

The foundation is currently engaged in “Forever SIU: The Campaign for Students,” a three-year fundraising effort that achieved its $75 million goal seven months ahead of schedule. The campaign runs through December 2019.

“Private support enhances the public support that is so critical to SIU’s success,” Delaney said. “The foundation board is very grateful to the governor and our state legislators for increasing funding for higher education across the state – and especially SIU – this year. State funding gives donors confidence and motivates them to further invest in the university.”

Delaney, who has served on the foundation board since 2012, thanked recent foundation board presidents Rashid and Tedrick for their leadership.

“All members of the board are volunteers who believe in the power of donors to advance SIU,” he said. “Susie and Roger have been models for all of us in terms of their dedication and leadership.”

Delaney is currently chief commercial officer for Farmer’s Business Network, which serves nearly 8,000 members across more than 30 million acres of farmland across the U.S. and Canada. He is based in northern Illinois. He was formerly executive vice president and chief operating officer at PotashCorp, the world’s largest fertilizer company.

Rashid owns SWR LLC in Evanston, Illinois, and Tedrick is president of Tedrick Group Risk Management Solutions in Mount Vernon. Solverson is a director of R&D programs for General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems in Marion.

The SIU Foundation is an independent, nonprofit corporation that exists solely to serve the educational, service and research missions of SIU Carbondale. As a designated 501(c)(3) organization, the foundation has approval from the Internal Revenue Service to issue tax-deductible receipts for private gifts received to support SIU.

 

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150 Stories of Philanthropy: Live Long and Prosper

Robert and Patricia Dennis

Welcome to a series of stories celebrating SIU’s 150th anniversary.

By Rebecca Renshaw

“Live long and prosper.” Most people are familiar with the Vulcan greeting of Mr. Spock in the television series “Star Trek,” which debuted in 1966 and went off the air just one month before Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Growing up in Decatur, Illinois, Robert Dennis was fascinated by “Star Trek” and its vision of outer space and space travel.

Both the reality of the moonwalk and the fantasy of “Star Trek” fueled Dennis’ desire to be an astronaut. Unfortunately, poor eyesight and a growth spurt dashed his hopes of physically traveling in outer space.

But he could still dream about it.

“I realized right then that if I couldn’t get into space as an astronaut, then maybe I could go to California and make a movie about space,” he says.

To do that, he would have to do more than dream. He would have to learn the art and science of cinematography.

So Dennis set his sights on SIU.

During his first few days on campus, two things surprised him. The first was a professor who announced to a room full of new students that “if you are in this class to get a job in Hollywood, you may as well walk right out the door.” At that defining moment, Dennis decided that not only would he go to Hollywood, but that he would become a success as well.

The other surprising revelation was that filmmaking had little resemblance to the shows he had watched growing up.

“Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, I now know that SIU gave me a deeper appreciation for film – especially experimental, documentary and independent filmmaking,” he says. “SIU opened my mind to a whole world of filmmaking that had nothing to do with my childhood dreams of ‘Star Trek.’ ”

Upon graduating from SIU, Dennis got his master’s degree from the University of Southern California, a widely respected film school that also claims George Lucas as one of its most accomplished alums. Dennis soon met his wife, Patricia, also a USC alum who now serves as senior vice president for The CW television network.

Dennis’ career included working at Lucasfilm, becoming elected as president of the Large Format Cinema Association and serving as a director of post production for HBO Pictures. Dennis also served on a post supervision team for film restoration and preservation at Walt Disney Studios as well as overseeing the 70mm “IMAX” laboratory services at Technicolor. While he and his wife forged successful careers in the challenging world of filmmaking, the couple also shares a strong commitment to the power of education.

That brings us back to Mr. Spock’s desire that others “live long and prosper.”

While Robert and Patricia Dennis have certainly fulfilled that goal, they understand that others may need a hand to do the same. Several years ago, the couple established the Robert Dennis Filmmaking Award, which is given to an outstanding SIU student filmmaker for his or her accomplishments in cinematography.

This past spring they began revamping their wills and recognized it made the best financial sense to establish a revocable family trust. With no children of their own and no extended family members to provide for, the couple determined that they wanted to see most of their estate gift go to youths who really need the help.

They both immediately thought of SIU.

“Patricia and I understand how tough this business can be for young people,” Dennis says. “Patricia listened to my stories about SIU, and the important part it played in my life. We both decided to give back to SIU and encourage students with financial help who need it to continue their filmmaking education.”

The Dennis’ estimated $1.3 million gift is the largest estate gift in the history of the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts.

“When we finalized the trust, we sent off a note to the SIU Foundation announcing our decision – and the reaction was amazing,” Dennis says. “We often ask ourselves, ‘How is it that we turned out to be the people who have pledged this amount to the school? Why haven’t others done the same?’ We’ve already set aside resources for others. It is just the right thing to do to help kids out who can use it more than us.”

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150 Stories of Philanthropy: School of Music brings entertainment, improves student experience

Young Artists Presentation at Southern Illinois Music Festival.

Young Artists Presentation at Southern Illinois Music Festival.

With a $15,000 grant from the SIU Foundation, the School of Music provided educational and artistic endeavors, benefiting students and the community at large.

“Within the School of Music, I tried to ensure the funds were allocated to activities benefiting a broad cross-section — including vocalists and instrumentalists, soloists and ensembles, classical and non-classical, new music and traditional,” Eric Lenz, the school’s interim director, said.

Below is a list of the events the grant helped fund:

Outside the Box

Arguably the most impactful activity sponsored by School of Music, this year’s new music festival featured an impressive slate of guest composers (Stephen Demski, Arthur Gottschalk) and performing artists (Apollo Chamber Players). The nine-concert series highlighted guest artists, SIU faculty and performance students.

Verdi Requiem at Shryock Auditorium

A performance of the Requiem Mass by Guiseppe Verdi is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This year’s marquee event was no exception. Filling the stage to capacity in Shryock Auditorium, SIU Symphony, Concert Choir and Choral Union were joined by guest ensembles from SEMO, John A. Logan College and Southeast Illinois College.

SIU Guitar Festival

Funds supported guest artists from Mexico and Puerto Rico, including Aldemar Valentín, who collaborated with SIU Assistant Professor of Guitar, Dr. Isaac Lausell. Additional funds helped defray cost of new equipment purchase (bass amp) associated with guest artists in the jazz area.

Southern Illinois Music Festival/Young Artist Program

The 15th annual Southern Illinois Music Festival (May 24 through June 9) featured more than 30 performances throughout Southern Illinois, at venues in Carbondale, Marion, Carterville, Murphysboro, Anna, Cairo, Makanda, Du Quoin, Christopher, Johnson City and Alto Pass. The highly acclaimed festival, which draws on members of the New Chicago Chamber Orchestra who perform side-by-side with SIU faculty and advanced performance students.

 

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150 Stories of Philanthropy: Ameren Corporation Frankie Muse Freeman Trailblazer Scholarship

Welcome to a series of stories celebrating SIU’s 150th anniversary.

By Rebecca Renshaw

Longtime civil rights leader, lawyer and activist Frankie Muse Freeman passed away earlier this year at the age of 101.

Freeman, whom some would later call “Frankie Freedom” became a civil rights attorney who fought to end segregated housing and promoted equal rights in St. Louis and nationwide during the civil rights movement.

Upon her passing, Ameren Corporation established the Ameren Corporation Frankie Muse Freeman Trailblazer Scholarship. In October 2018, Ameren contributed $5,000 to the SIU School of Law. This will be the first of four payments of $5,000.

The scholarship specifications stipulate that the award be given to a full-time third-year law student in good academic standing, with specific preference given to a student who identifies as a female from an under-represented community with a demonstrated commitment to diversity and social justice.

The first recipient of this award is SIU law school student Adaku Oti. Oti is a third-year SIU law school student from Toronto who is deeply committed to humanitarian efforts. She was nine-years-old when she created a foundation in support of orphanages along the coast of West Africa. The foundation’s most recent donation has gone to the Children’s Home for the Deaf and those with Mental Disabilities in Accra, Ghana in January 2018 in hopes to advance the quality of life for the children and young adults that reside there.

“Receiving a scholarship from a company such as Ameren encourages me tremendously,” said Oti. “I am humbled they thought enough of my humanitarian efforts to help. Receiving this from Ameren makes me realize that everyone can contribute something small and it just might end up becoming something bigger.”

“We are very proud of the work of Adaku Oti, whose passion for helping those less fortunate embodies the founding mission of the SIU School of Law, which was “created in the public interest to serve the public good,” said Cindy Buys, interim dean for the SIU School of Law.  “We also are grateful to Ameren Corporation for their support of our law students. These types of scholarships facilitate our students’ success in law school and beyond,” Buys said.

To learn more about how you can give to the SIU School of Law, visit http://foreversiu.org/colleges-units/law.php.To learn more about the Forever SIU campaign, visit www.foreversiu.org.

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150 Stories of Philanthropy: The power of “just a thought”

Group of donors to Balancing Education, Experience and Reality Scholarship.

“Any interest in this group in starting up a scholarship fund to help current students? (Tuition is a lot higher than it was when we were there and I am sure that some students could use the help.) Even if we averaged just a $10 donation per member, that would still be a decent amount of money. And just think of the name(s) that we could assign to the scholarship fund. Just a thought.” – Dan Giedeman, Facebook comment on January 29

“Any interest in this group in starting up a scholarship fund to help current students? (Tuition is a lot higher than it was when we were there and I am sure that some students could use the help.)
Even if we averaged just a $10 donation per member, that would still be a decent amount of money.
And just think of the name(s) that we could assign to the scholarship fund.
Just a thought.” – Dan Giedeman, Facebook comment on January 29, 2019

By Rebecca Renshaw

In January 2019, Dan Giedeman, a three-degree SIU alumnus, posted this now-famous comment in the private Facebook group called “Carbondale in the ’80s and ’90s.” The group, started by Craig S. Wilson in November 2018, swelled to nearly 15,000 members within three months.

Giedeman’s idea to raise money for a scholarship dovetailed perfectly into SIU’s Day of Giving on March 6. With the added excitement of the university’s 150th anniversary kickoff celebration, members of the group banded together and donated. The outpouring was phenomenal.

Jim Raffensperger, a member of the Facebook group, named the scholarship as a joke that brought a smile to many alums — The Balancing Education, Experience and Reality (BEER) Scholarship.

“I mean, what college kid doesn’t drink beer?” Raffensperger joked. The name stuck, and the group rallied behind it in a viral fashion. Nearly 1,100 people from the group donated more than $50,000 to create two endowed scholarships for students.

A ceremony on the steps of Shryock Auditorium held Friday, March 29, commemorated the creation of the scholarship. Many members of the group traveled from other states. One person who hadn’t been back to campus in over 28 years traveled from South Carolina to be part of the ceremony.

Giedeman, who traveled from Michigan, presented Chancellor John M. Dunn with a check for $50,000 from the group. Weeks after the presentation, donations continued to pour in.

Dunn presented the group of about 100 people with the Day of Giving trophy for most individual gifts for a non-academic unit. Dunn said he has always been impressed by the amount of pride at SIU, and it was evident in this group’s turnout.

“In the history of humankind, the really great people — the Mother Theresas, the Albert Schweitzers — have always reminded us that true happiness can only be obtained through giving,” Dunn said. “You represent that in spades, and I’m very, very proud of you. Thank you.”

Raffensperger said alumni came to the university for the education but left with memorable experiences, lifelong friends, and sometimes their soulmates.

“We’re all back because we came to love SIU and southern Illinois,” Raffensperger said.

Many who came to witness the celebration also took a tour of the campus, and some brought their high school children to take a look at all that SIU has to offer. That evening, a group took the trophy to several Carbondale establishments for bragging rights.

As well as raising funds for the university, Giedeman and Raffensperger said the Facebook group created a space for alumni to find opportunities to support current students with mentors and internships. The group also encourages former students to finish their degrees at the university.

The trophy will be shared among the group throughout the upcoming year. The trophy was scheduled to travel to SIU Days at Busch Stadium and Wrigley Field in June.

 

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150 Stories of Philanthropy: Scholarship continues service and teaching legacy of Dr. Barb Brown

barb brown scholarship recipients

By Rebecca Renshaw

On Saturday, June 8, the family of Barb Brown held the annual garden party at the Leavitt family farm in Ellis Grove to raise funds for the Barb Brown Memorial Fund. Proceeds of the fund will be used to continue the service and teaching legacy of Dr. Brown.

Mikayla Cain was a recipient of the scholarship and attended the event. “It was a lovely event and it was nice to get to know Barb Brown’s sons and learn more about Dr. Brown,” Cain said.

The scholarship recipients received a DVD which contained a documentary about Dr. Brown’s run for state senate. Brown passed away May 5, 2016.

“Dr. Brown was a force to be reckoned among women and in southern Illinois politics. I feel so honored to receive her scholarship,” Cain said.

A senior, Cain is majoring in political science with a minor in journalism. Her plan after graduation is to serve as a congressional constituent caseworker where she will act as a liaison between constituents and federal agencies.

Cain says the scholarship will make a big difference in her life. “Since I am an independent student, this scholarship will help me tremendously. I won’t have to take out extra loans to get by,” Cain said.

 

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150 Stories of Philanthropy: SIU Credit Union Provides Support for Touch of Nature

SIU Credit Union’s Kim Babington and staff present a $10,000 donation to J.D. Tanner, director of SIU’s Touch of Nature.

SIU Credit Union’s Kim Babington and staff present a $10,000 donation to J.D. Tanner, director of SIU’s Touch of Nature.

By Rebecca Renshaw

Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center received a special donation from the SIU Credit Union today at Freeberg Hall in Camp 2. Several SIU employees, staffers, and Touch of Nature supporters came out to share in the enthusiasm and attend the presentation.

Kim Babington, vice president of community outreach presented a $10,000 donation check to J.D. Tanner, director of Touch of Nature. The funds will go to support programs and activities.

“This generous cash donation is definitely an enhancement for SIU and we appreciate SIU Credit Union’s support. More importantly, we are honored the community is recognizing the value of the work we do here at Touch of Nature,” Tanner said.

The check was presented in front of staff and campers who are enjoying spending time this week at the outdoor experiential learning facility.

“SIU Credit Union supports the Carbondale community and Touch of Nature is a big part of this community. We want to contribute to all of the great programs and activities that are offered here at Touch of Nature,” Babington said.

For more information about Touch of Nature, their programs and upcoming events, visit ton.siu.edu. If you would like to provide support, visit https://siuf.org/giving/college-unit/touch-of-nature.php.

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150 Stories of Philanthropy: How encouragement changed the life of an SIU Carbondale alumnus

ryan gougisWelcome to a series of stories celebrating SIU’s 150th anniversary.

By Rebecca Renshaw

Ryan Gougis is living proof of the adage, “Nine-tenths of education is encouragement.” Raised in south Chicago, Gougis did not come from a wealthy background.

“I faced adversity growing up and there weren’t a ton of resources in my community to help. But inside my household, my parents encouraged me. They always told me that education is the key to escaping hardship so they were very supportive of me attending SIU Carbondale,” he said.

During his junior year at SIU, Gougis came into contact with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute when someone encouraged him to apply for an internship. He knew it would be a great way to get a feel for the workforce and build up his resume, so he applied, interviewed, and ultimately accepted the Gene Callahan internship.

“The internship involved working at the state capitol in Springfield to gain experience working in state government. From day one, I was thrown into the mix of actual work. I would draft press releases, write letters to constituents, and assist in the process of government before legislation would be sent to the governor. It was eye opening and exciting,” Gougis said.

After graduating in May 2016 with a Criminal Justice degree, Gougis accepted a job as a program specialist with the Illinois House of Representatives. “Because of my affiliation with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, I am always running into a fellow Saluki in Springfield. It gives me a real sense of connection knowing that I am part of a family.”

Besides his parents support, Gougis credits the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute with giving him the keys to opening doors of opportunity for his career.

“There are so many students who are pursuing success but they just don’t have the key. Paul Simon Public Policy Institute gave me that key. The people there were and still are supportive of my career. It’s like a family model. Once you are a part of them, wherever you are in life, even outside the walls of SIU, they are always there to support you. I still get calls from people like Dr. Baker or Carol Greenlee checking in to see how I’m doing.”

Gougis is also active with his fraternity, Phi Rho Eta, a group that promotes the principles of pride, respect, and excellence. Their national program, Mentor Teacher Brother engages youth from single-parent homes or disadvantaged backgrounds and helps mentor them to set the standard of manhood and exemplary positive behavior.

“I really want to pay it forward and give to those who may not have come from the best environment. Because I had encouragement from my family and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, I am a living testament as to how philanthropy can change the life of a young man. I would highly encourage donors to give to the Institute.”

To learn more about the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, visit http://paulsimoninstitute.siu.edu/. To learn more about the needs of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, visit http://foreversiu.org/colleges-units/paul-simon.php.

 

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