A leader on and off the field

Marnin credits scholarships with football and academic success

Jacob Marnin

By Rebecca Renshaw

On the football field, the center protects the quarterback and paves the way for the ball carrier. A good center is key to a strong, cohesive unit.

For SIU’s football team, Jacob Marnin plays that role. His on-the-field ability brought him to SIU on a football scholarship, but his academic accolades are even more impressive. He’s the first recipient of the Chancellor Carlo Montemagno Excellence Scholarship.

“None of this would be possible without the help of scholarships,” Marnin said. “The Montemagno scholarship has helped me pay for books and other fees, allowing me to put even more focus on my studies.”

Montemagno joined SIU as its chancellor in August 2017 but passed away on October 11, 2018. During his tenure, he was a fixture at athletic events.

“Chancellor Montemagno was a great supporter of Saluki Athletics,” Marnin said. “I remember seeing him around our facilities often. It means a lot that his family has honored his memory by helping students advance toward their goals.”

Marnin, who earned his bachelor’s degree in 2018, is a graduate student in criminal justice. He anticipates graduating in May 2020, and he was recently named a Division I first team academic All-American, as selected by College Sports Information Directors of America.

With a perfect 4.0 GPA, he was the 100th player in Saluki Athletics history to earn Academic All-American status. He was also a member of the FCS ADA Academic All-Star Team and MVFC All-Academic Team.

“Everyone at SIU has been so supportive,” he said. “My professors and coaches have been great. They’re willing to go the extra mile for you.”

After he graduates, Marnin plans to go into the Army’s officer candidate school and spend five years serving in the Army. After that, he has his sights set on being a paramilitary operator for the CIA.

Support the Chancellor Carlo Montemagno Excellence Scholarship here: siuf.org/montemagno


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SIU thanks alumnus Jeffery Leving ’74 for donating hundreds of rare naturalist paintings to Morris Library

Jeffery Leving ’74 recently donated hundreds of rare naturalist paintings to Morris Library. The collection includes 295  Audubon bird paintings from the Birds of America octavo edition; 67 mammals from the Quadrupeds of North America, octavo ed.; and 13 Redouté prints of flowers from the lily family.

Dean John Pollitz shares that when the collection of boxes arrived and he started opening them, he was overwhelmed with Leving’s generosity.

“This collection is so well suited to our university because we have such a strong relationship with nature. We are surrounded by the Shawnee National Forest, we are in the center of the Mississippi Flyway, and we are in the midst of the land that Audubon roamed finding his birds to draw.”

“This donation is a reflection of how our alumni hold this place dear. Jeffery and I attended SIU at a very special time and our lives were molded by those years. I am thrilled that someone as successful as Leving wants to give back to SIU,” Pollitz said.

The collection will be on display at the library beginning April 23 during Earth Week.


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SIU alumna stars in ‘Hamilton’

Professors, theater program, scholarship pave the way

Zoe Jensen snaps a selfie outside the the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia, the first stop of her ‘Hamilton’ production.

Zoe Jensen snaps a selfie outside the the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia, the first stop of her ‘Hamilton’ production.

By Jeff Wilson

A couple of years ago, Zoe Jensen was an SIU senior pondering her future. Now, she’s playing Eliza Hamilton, the lead female role in a national tour of the world-famous Broadway musical “Hamilton.”

The path to her dream role started in Rockford, where she took violin lessons at a young age, participated in high school sports and the performing arts. She originally considered journalism as her college major but decided to apply to musical theater programs, too.

“I went to the annual Illinois High School Theatre Festival and decided to participate in auditions,” she said. “It was there that I met Tim Fink, the head of SIU’s musical theater department at the time. He told me all about the program, and I was sold pretty quickly. Tim explained to me how it was a small program at a big school, so I’d get a mix of a private and public school feel. This really appealed to me.”

Jensen received the Stuart Fischoff Excellence in Musical Theater Award, which is a $1,000 scholarship given to students who exhibit great potential for success in their careers. It was that potential Fink and J. Thomas Kidd, current chair of the Department of Theater, saw in her as well.

“Tom gave me my first professional job at the McLeod Summer Playhouse. I always enjoyed working with him because he would give me not only encouragement, but also things I should work on,” Jensen said. “As for Tim, I remember a time my senior year when he called me to his office, asking me what I was planning on doing after graduation. After telling him I wasn’t sure, he said, ‘You should go to New York.’ Before I could answer, he stopped me and said, ‘No, you need to go to New York.’ The confidence I felt from him at that time really impacted me and is partly responsible for where I am today.”

It wasn’t just Fink and Kidd who made an impact on her life and career, Jensen pointed out.

“I was so lucky to have so many supportive professors and mentors,” she said. “The great thing about a small program is that you really feel noticed by every professor. You don’t just blend into the crowd. The quality of SIU’s professors, students and productions is top-tier. My four years with them truly paved the way for my career today.”

A member of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, Jensen has many fond memories of her time in Carbondale. She sang the national anthem at her 2017 graduation ceremony and received her bachelor’s degree in musical theater. “There are so many days that I miss walking through the nature-filled campus or exploring Giant City State Park,” she said. “I really enjoy getting to come back and see productions, whether through the Department of Theater or the summer productions at McLeod Summer Playhouse. I strongly encourage anyone with a love of music to head to one of SIU’s shows.”


After graduating, Jensen first worked as an actor at the Children’s Theater of Cincinnati. She moved to New York City shortly after and landed a role in the off-Broadway show “We are the Tigers,” a pop/ rock horror musical.

“From that, we recorded an official cast recording, which has definitely been a highlight of my career so far,” she said.

She made her Broadway debut as a cover for the two principal girls in “Dear Evan Hansen,” which won the award for Best Musical at the 2017 Tony Awards.

“A few days into my first week at ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ I found out I booked Eliza Hamilton, the female principal role, in the national tour of ‘Hamilton,’ which is arguably the biggest and most impactful musical in the world right now,” Jensen said. “To say that I was honored, emotional and so grateful would be an understatement.”

Currently, there are two tours of “Hamilton,” and Jensen is on the Angelica tour, named after another prominent female character in the play, which has done more 1,000 shows nationwide.

“It’s the same production, music and choreography as the Broadway show, we just put it in a few trucks and are bringing it to cities around the country,” she said.

Her tour travels across large swaths of the country, including a six-week stop in May 2020 at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis.

“I am so excited to be able to bring the show to St. Louis, because not only is it a few hours from home, but it’s so close to my alma mater,” she said.


With music and lyrics written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hamilton” became a cultural phenomenon shortly after its 2015 debut.

Inspired by Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography of one of the nation’s Founding Fathers, the show uses hip-hop, R&B and soul, along with traditional-style show tunes. In 2016, it garnered a record-setting 16 Tony Award nominations, winning 11, including Best Musical.

“It’s the most beautiful, touching, difficult, intricate production I’ve ever been a part of,” Jensen said. “We at the company lovingly call it a ‘monster’ because it’s incredibly difficult with its many moving parts, but so, so worthwhile. This production has really taken the world by storm. It is a perfect mix of telling a story of someone incredibly important in American history while also staying relatable and giving it a fresh look with its hip-hop music and dance.

“It is a story of an immigrant who came to this country with a dream of success, worked his way to the top, had a family, made a handful of mistakes along the way, and finished his life with a legacy. That kind of story isn’t just touching in the 1800s.”

“Hamilton” is also well-known for its diverse casting choices; which Jensen believes has only increased the show’s impact.

“I am a proud half-Filipino woman, who as a kid, didn’t really see a ton of actors who looked like me on stage,” she said. “It is an absolute honor to be representing diversity in our theater community alongside my castmates.”

Tickets to any national “Hamilton” performance can be purchased at hamiltonmusical.com/us-tour/tickets.


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Burris Shares His Saluki Pride

Roland Burris is a man of action and passion.

The SIU Carbondale alumnus speaks about being a Saluki with the same amount of pride one would expect him to speak about his many accomplishments.

“When you graduate from SIU, you are a graduate of one of the greatest universities in this country,” Burris said. “You are a Saluki!”

Showing his support for the students at his alma mater, Burris established an endowed emergency fund for students in need. Started in 2008, it benefits full-time SIU students from the Chicagoland area or Southern Illinois (south of I-70) with preferences given to African American students. He returned to campus in April 2019 to meet the most recent recipients of grants made through his gift.

During his time as an SIU student, one of Burris’ housemates was forced to drop out and leave the college because of financial woes. “I never forgot that,” he said. “I said if I ever got in a position to help a student, I would lend a helping hand.”

Burris received a $35-per-quarter tuition scholarship in 1955 that allowed him to enroll at SIU. In 1959, he earned a scholarship to study as an exchange student at the University of Hamburg in Germany. He went on to law school at Howard University. At Howard, Burris received a scholarship as a graduate assistant.

“I got my foundation at SIU in political science that allowed me to do very well,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for scholarships, I wouldn’t have been able to make it.”

Even the shortest version of his résumé speaks for itself. Burris was the first black national bank examiner for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency for the U.S. and the first black man elected to statewide office in Illinois, replacing President Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate.

He has served as an adjunct professor for SIU’s master of public administration program. In 1997, he was added to the University’s Wall of Fame as one of its 10 Most Distinguished Alumni.

Burris offered sage words of advice to anyone in a position to make a difference in the life of an SIU student.

“Make room for visions of other people and help if you’re able to,” he said. “We have to look out for those who are less fortunate. You cannot believe what a good feeling you get inside to know that you have helped somebody along the way.”


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Building A Path To SIU And Its Region

By Rebecca Renshaw

Beth Mueller had been looking for a way to honor her parents’ love of Southern Illinois University Carbondale and the surrounding region for several years, but nothing seemed to resonate – until she heard J.D. Tanner, director of SIU’s Touch of Nature, speak about the multi-purpose bike path project at a meeting last fall. Part of the project includes a kids’ pump track, where children of all ages and abilities can enjoy bike riding at Touch of Nature.

“J.D.’s enthusiasm about that project is contagious. When I heard him describe the potential, what a bike path of this size could mean to the university and region, and how it could help foster a love of the outdoors for young people, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to honor my parents,” she said.

Mueller, sister Amy Frerichs and brother Jason Rausenberger were raised in southern Illinois and are all proud graduates of SIU. They recently established a gift of $35,000 in honor of their parents, Alan and Pat Rausenberger, to fund a children’s pump track at the Touch of Nature multi-purpose bike path project. Mother Pat Rausenberger passed away in 2013, and father Alan Rausenberger still lives in the Carterville home where they raised their children.

Jason Rausenberger thinks the project will be a great addition to southern Illinois.

“This will be a really neat place for Southern Illinois, and will give families a great new outdoor activity,” he said.” Growing up, we all spent a lot of time together outdoors. Doing things like this has always been a great way to hang out with my dad, whether it was him coaching our softball and baseball teams as kids, teaching us how to water ski on Crab Orchard Lake, golfing at Hickory Ridge or just hanging out on the houseboat with my parents’ dock friends.”

Mueller said the reason they chose to donate to the Touch of Nature’s bike path project, most specifically to build a kids’ pump track, is to honor their parents’ love for children.

“My mother was a second-grade schoolteacher at Streator Elementary School and Carbondale Winkler and Parrish elementary schools for several years and she related to children so well. She especially loved her grandchildren. She was the kind of grandmother who was quick to get on the floor and read a book to her grandkids in funny voices or spend hours blowing bubbles and enjoying their giggles,” she said.

Mueller fondly recalls coming into her 18-month-old daughter’s bedroom well past bedtime, where she would find her mom reading from a stack of books. Her mother would say, “Just one more book and we’ll quit.”

The Rausenberger family grew up staunch supporters of SIU and attended many Saluki sporting events.

“Our dad is a business owner in Carbondale, and all three of us kids attended SIU. It’s just part of who we are as a family, so it comes naturally to want to help the university and the region,” Mueller said. “My hope for SIU is that we find a path forward that celebrates this fantastic research university and also recognizes the unique surrounding physical environment SIU and southern Illinois offer.”

Tanner is leading an initiative to expand Touch of Nature’s Park and Trail System to over 30 miles of a natural-surface trail. Currently, there is no designated mountain biking trail in southern Illinois, with the two closest being in St. Louis and Indiana.

The trail system would attract outdoor recreation enthusiasts from across the country, increase Touch of Nature’s role in student recruitment and retention and establish the park as an economic driver for southern Illinois. Tanner believes such a bike trail could attract up to 55,000 people each year and bring $7 million in consumer spending to the region.

“We’re so thankful to everyone who shares in our mission – like the Rausenberger family,” Tanner said. “I hope people will see the value in the economic boost that this will bring to southern Illinois.”

Frerichs is looking forward to the project’s completion and says it will hold a special place in her heart.

“I’m so excited to see this come to life. Family meant everything to my mom, and it does to my dad too. My mom would spend hours on our deck in the summertime, watching my girls race their bikes on the trails in our little patch of woods, across the bridge over the creek, exploring our own little forest. I guess you could say that we had our own little kids’ pump track, so this will be really special to me,” she said.


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Barrick Hopes Gift Brings Good Fortune To Others

By Rebecca Renshaw

In Bob Barrick’s life, everything has been earned. But it has also been founded on his educational experience at SIU.

To give back, Barrick has donated $250,000, including $100,000 for scholarships, to make a difference for future students. His gift will benefit SIU’s Enrollment Management office. He’s also committed another $150,000, which is yet to be allocated.

“SIU holds a soft spot in my heart,” he said. “It contributed to my success in life. If I can help one or two others in life, then that’s what it is all about.”

Barrick grew up in Lincoln, Illinois, and had family living in Marion. After a short stint at Bradley University, he decided to come to Southern Illinois.

Barrick was the first in his family to earn a four-year college degree, graduating from SIU in 1962 with a degree in marketing. He worked his way through college as a soda jerk at Thompson Woods.

At the time, ROTC service was mandatory for all male students, so Barrick spent three years on an American base in Japan doing financial work after he graduated.

“I was away from home for three Thanksgivings, three Christmases, and three New Year’s. I was extremely homesick by the time those three years were up,” he said.

After his service, Barrick worked for oil companies across the Midwest, ending up in Detroit. Over the years, he has expanded his investment in oil companies through his business, Barrick Enterprises.

“I worked my butt off. No one gave me anything,” he said. “College education is very important. I want to help open the door to get others to go to college. It’d be great to help some kid from Lincoln go to college.”

Barrick, 79, is acutely aware of his good fortune and hopes his gifts to SIU will help others experience a life as fulfilling as his own.

“Life is short. I’ve been blessed more than I should,” he said. “If God lets me get out of bed, it’s time to do something nice that day. You can’t just lay at home all day.

“When I talk to the big guy upstairs, he’s been pretty fair to me.”


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Estate planning leaves lasting legacy: Alumna makes plan to benefit future Salukis

Kimberly Omelson (left) is pictured with her roommate from freshman year (1988) at the homecoming game on October 19, 2019.

By Jeff Wilson

SIU made a lasting impression on Kimberly Omelson, and now, she plans to leave her mark on the university.

Omelson, who graduated in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in English, has planned an estate gift that will benefit the College of Liberal Arts and Morris Library.

“You don’t have to have a lot of money in order to make a difference,” she said. “Sure, we’d all love to donate $1 million to our alma mater, but that’s not going to happen for the majority of us.”

Her uncle, Albert Hall, attended SIU in the 1960s, and the scholarships Omelson creates will be named after her and her uncle.

“I’m single, and I have no children. My parents and grandparents have all died. My only sister died and did not have children,” she said. “If I didn’t have a will and make my own estate plans, the State of Illinois would determine who benefits from my estate when I’m gone.”

Choosing SIU made sense to Omelson because of her great memories from Carbondale. She joined the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority and made lifelong friends. One of those memories is when she brought her mother to Founders Day in 1990.

“My mom saw a lot that day – her daughter being acknowledged by her sorority for academic achievement. She saw I had great friends. She saw that I had something that made me truly, genuinely happy,” Omelson said. “She was diagnosed with breast cancer later that year and died in May 1991. So, she didn’t see all of my college career, but she saw the aspect of it that meant the most to me – my sorority and my sisterhood.”

Through estate planning, anyone can be a philanthropist, and the SIU Foundation is ready to help anyone make the greatest possible impact.

“It’s kind of moving to know I’m going to be able to help a kid in the same boat I was in so many years ago,” Omelson said. “Philanthropy is pretty incredible.”

To learn more about estate planning, visit siufgiving.org or call 618/453-4900.

Couple of educators: Dan & Kathy Wheeler fund scholarship for future teachers

Dan and Kathy Wheeler

Dan and Kathy Wheeler

By Jeff Wilson

Dan and Kathy Wheeler’s passion for Southern Illinois University may only be eclipsed by their passion for education.

“SIU is part of the family,” said Kathy Wheeler. “We know it’s the primary resource for students from southern Illinois to get a higher education and become teachers. That’s where our hearts lie.”

The couple has established the Bryan-Peak Endowed Scholarship, which benefits students in the College of Education and Human Services. The name of the scholarship honors the couple’s maternal grandparents, Robert and Edith Sellars Bryan and Alexander and Marvel Klasing Peak, as well as Kathy’s mother, Lou Ellen Peak Reagan.

Both families have strong ties to the region, university and education profession. The Bryans were from southern Illinois and lived most of their lives there, and the Peaks spent their adult lives in Herrin. Lou Ellen was born in Herrin, worked as a school secretary at Southside Elementary and Herrin Junior High School and was a graduate of SIU’s Vocational Technical Institute.

Dan Wheeler graduated from SIU in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in social studies, and Kathy Wheeler completed much of her master’s program at SIU.

“Nobody in my family had ever gone to college before,” said Dan Wheeler. “I received a small teacher’s scholarship and worked at the university post office. I had to work pretty hard, so I didn’t take full class loads.”

Kathy Wheeler, a southern Illinois native, was an undergraduate at Murray State in Kentucky, but returned home during breaks and the summer. Through mutual friends, she and Dan were introduced. In June of 1967, they were married.

“I fell in love with Danny at Morris Library,” she said.

When they decided to help future educators, their affinity for SIU made a scholarship the obvious choice.

“We see SIU as continuing to be very important for the southern Illinois area,” Dan Wheeler said. “We wanted to think about something that will last beyond our lifetime. I have a blessed life and career because of SIU.”

Teachers & advocates

After a stint in the Army, Dan Wheeler began his teaching career at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Herrin. He has also taught middle school in Christopher, Illinois, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Gwinnett County, Georgia.

Kathy Wheeler taught English for a decade at her alma mater, Herrin High School. She has also worked with the National Education Association, National Society of Public Relations Association and as trainer and advocate for teacher’s associations across the country.

“Public education and those who provide it are crucial to America and our way of life,” Kathy Wheeler said. “Everybody gets to come through the door. People we’re supporting with this scholarship will do the best they can with whoever walks through that door. It’s so valuable to who we are at heart.”

The Wheelers are acutely aware of the issues that teachers can face.

“Teaching is an undervalued profession,” Dan Wheeler said. “People that go into it, and stay in it, are very dedicated. For us to be able to promote the profession and help those who want to be a part of it, that’s a special thing.”

For more information on how to support student scholarships, visit foreversiu.org.


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Arena puts SIU on the esports map

By Jeff Wilson

Walking into Student Center’s northside entrance, the blue light is eye-catching. It draws attention to one of the university’s newest attractions – the SIU Esports Arena.

Esports feature competitive multiplayer video game matches. Already popular across the globe, the draw of esports is still growing. A February report from Newzoo, a gaming industry analytics firm, estimated global esports revenue would hit $1.1 billion in 2019. In July, 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf won $3 million playing Fortnite, one of the most popular video games featured in esports.

With the new arena, SIU has a spot at the forefront of the esports market.

“The Esports Arena adds a new opportunity for our students to engage with each other while playing competitive or recreational video games,” said Tena Bennett, Student Center director.

The arena’s entrance is located in the Bowling & Billiards area of the Student Center, and it’s open to students, faculty, staff and community members for a small fee. It can also be booked for groups or parties. For more information, email esports@siu.edu.

SIU Esports also has a registered student organization, which will compete with other universities. The hope is to expand the team and its ability to compete in the future.

Of course, as is the case with all technology, there is a constant need for upgrades.

“In efforts to keep the SIU Esports Arena competitive among other universities, schedules have been implemented for equipment replacements including arena digital displays, gaming PCs, peripherals, chairs and controllers,” said Brandon Macier, assistant marketing director for the Student Center. “Annual software upgrades and new game licensing are also a continual expense as new games are released.”

To support the esports initiative and help the arena thrive, visit siuf.org/esports.

“By donating to the Esports Arena, you are supporting students and adding to the dynamic culture we strive to build and maintain on our campus,” Bennett said.


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Alumnus strengthens commitment to automotive tech

Swartz, with help of matching gift program, offers scholarship

By Jeff Wilson

For Neil Swartz, it was a unique homecoming.

A 1978 graduate of SIU’s automotive technology program, Swartz is one of many alumni who remembers the program’s previous home, the old military barracks in Carterville.

Of course, now automotive technology students spend their days at the Transportation Education Center at Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro. In late August, Swartz walked around TEC for the first time.

“It is like an island paradise,” Swartz said. “This is my first time back here. It’s overwhelming. It’s even more impressive than I could have imagined.”

A strong supporter of the program, Swartz played an integral role in the planning process of the facility. He served on the SIU Automotive National Advisory Board for 20-plus years and secured the first corporate donation for TEC.

“I championed Toyota’s corporate donation,” said Swartz, who has worked for Toyota Motor North America since 1985 and is vice president of the company’s Parts Supply Chain. “It demonstrates Toyota’s commitment to the communities we serve, higher education and automotive excellence.”

More recently, he funded an endowed scholarship. The Neil Swartz Scholarship Endowment Fund is awarded to an automotive technology student.

Toyota matches his gifts so as Swartz adds thousands of dollars each year to his fund, Toyota generously donates the same amount dollar for dollar. Many companies, both large and small, offer similar matching gift programs to employees.

“More donors need to take advantage of matching gifts,” Swartz said. “It benefits the students, the university and ultimately Toyota because SIU is home to the best automotive technology program in the country. I’ve stayed connected because I believe in the commitment the program has to its students.”

He encourages alumni to stay connected, return to campus and give back when they can.

“I know what my education at SIU meant to me. I have a lot of gratitude to SIU, particularly the automotive program. It allowed me to learn, grow, and have a successful career,” Swartz said. “However, I believe you’re not truly successful until you can give back.”

For more information about matching gift programs or setting up an endowment, visit siuf.org.


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