Alumnus honors Werlichs with $525K in donations

Assistantship, scholarship named for longtime professor, family

SIU Morris Library

Most worthwhile college experiences include connecting with others. Some of these interactions are fleeting, but some make a lasting impact.

One such connection from decades ago inspired an SIU alumnus to ensure that impact stretches decades into the future. With two gifts, totaling $525,000, he and his wife have honored Dr. David Werlich and his family.

“I don’t think I would have ever finished my graduate degree without their support,” said the alumnus, who wished to remain anonymous. The first is a $425,000 gift that will establish the Werlich Family Graduate Assistantship in Digital Humanities at Morris Library Endowment Fund. The other is a $100,000 donation that creates the David P. Werlich Graduate Scholarship Endowment Fund in the Department of History.

Dr. David Werlich, an emeritus history professor, taught courses in Latin American history. However, it wasn’t his classes that inspired such a philanthropic gesture.

“I never took a class with Dr. Werlich, but I knew his son, Tom, and we went to graduate school at the same time. When I was there, all my undergrad friends had left, and I felt kind of alone,” said the alumnus. “That’s when we became extremely good friends. He introduced me to his family, and I ended up spending a lot of time at his home in Carbondale.

“Dr. Werlich would talk about a lot of things – history, politics, and particularly South America. The Werlichs were very good to me. It was like having a second family. It was vital for me.”

THE WERLICH LEGACY

A recipient of five assistantships during his time at SIU, the alumnus felt it was important to give other students similar opportunities. The Werlich Family Graduate Assistantship will help the library with its digitalization project.

Graduate students will be able to apply for the assistantship and receive it multiple times to help SIU and Morris Library develop future leaders in the field of digitalization.

“This gift will allow us to bring more of the treasures held in the Special Collections Research Center to our students and faculty in a digital format that leads to a deeper engagement with the actual documents,” said John Pollitz, dean of Library Affairs. “It promotes collaboration with the history department directly but will and provides the foundation for more digital humanities projects across campus.”

Pollitz shared his experience with Dr. Werlich, which makes this donation that much more meaningful.

“I took two classes in Latin American history from Dr. Werlich. They had a real impact on my life,” he said. “Many things about Dr. Werlich’s teaching have stayed with me since those times. He made the subject come alive and exciting. The idea of honoring this wonderful professor and making the library part of this gift was a high point in my life as a librarian.”

The David P. Werlich Graduate Scholarship will benefit a student in the Department of History who is focusing on Latino Studies.

“Dr. Werlich’s career at SIU spanned four decades and left a deep imprint on the teaching of history to thousands of students,” said Dr. Jonathan Bean, professor of history at SIU. “Under his leadership, SIU hired a new generation of history professors to reinvigorate the field.”

Dr. Bean, too, was directly impacted by the career of Dr. Werlich.

“He was famous for his wicked sense of humor, and he was popular as an instructor,” he said. “He was also mentor to students and faculty in ways that went beyond the imparting of advice. I am indebted to him for his mentoring – he made my early years at SIU a pleasure and his mentoring is something I aspire to pay forward to the next generation. The ripples of his influence will be felt for years to come.”

‘THIS IS WHAT IT TAKES’

After years of making smaller scale donations, including spreading funds to multiple areas during recent SIU Days of Giving, a conversation about something more substantial began.

“I was donating to a wide variety of causes, but I had not committed to a larger donation,” the alumnus said. “I knew I wanted to honor Dr. Werlich and his family.”

Both projects are forward-thinking in their nature, considering the value of digital records and understanding the importance of diversity, particularly that of the Latino culture.

“It’s important for the future success of the university. We want kids who are interested in focusing on these things,” he said.

The spirit of what Dr. Werlich was able to do for this particular alumnus is reflected in his generous donation.

“This is what it takes to have extras at the university,” he said. “There’s an element of feeling good about helping people out. It’s not easy out there.”

Engage with us on LinkedInFacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Family honors alumnus’ wishes, memory: Youchoff fund will help students finish

Johnny Youchoff stands in front of Saluki Stadium next to the King Tut pyramid memorial.

Seventy years after Johnny Youchoff ’s graduation from SIU, his family is honoring his memory by establishing the Johnny Youchoff and Mary Agnes Youchoff Finish Line Endowed Scholarship.

His cousin, John Savio, and John’s wife, Anita, donated $250,000 to create this endowed scholarship honoring Youchoff and his wife, Mary Agnes. The term “finish line” refers to the goal of the fund, which aims to help students complete their degrees.

The scholarship is designed for SIU juniors and seniors who are graduates of his former high school in West Frankfort or his mother’s high school in Christopher and have experienced a major life event that may prevent them from graduating.

“Johnny had every sticker the SIU Alumni Association had sent him on his garage wall,” said John Savio. “He hoped to be a member of the Alumni Association for at least 50 years, and was proud to exceed that goal.”

Youchoff, a West Frankfort native worked at his family business, Heights Bakery, as a youth and graduated from Frankfort Community High School. At SIU, he majored in geography and graduated in 1952. In May of 2021 he passed away at age 91 and was buried with his SIU 150th anniversary pin.

“Education was very important to Johnny, and he was particularly eager to help students from his and his mother’s hometowns,” Anita Savio said. “He would love that his legacy will be supporting these students on the brink of completing their degrees.”

Family Memories

John Savio never lived in Southern Illinois, but as a youth he and his parents often visited his grandmother, and aunt and uncle there.

“That was a vacation our family took every summer for at least a week, sometimes 10 days. I had so much fun with Johnny and his brother Louis,” said John Savio, a longtime Michigan resident. “We would go fishing, boating and hiking, and travel all around the area … to Crab Orchard, Cave-in-Rock, Shawnee National Forest.”

After earning his degree, Youchoff joined the Army and served proudly during the Korean War. Upon his return he went to work at General Motors in Atlanta, and, before meeting his wife-to-be, spent his evenings studying law at John Marshall Law School.

“That was the kind of guy Johnny was,” John Savio said. “He had no interest in practicing law and never mentioned his degree. I didn’t even know he went to law school until I saw the diploma on his wall about 10 years ago. Even at SIU, he studied Russian for the fun of it. He just loved learning.”

Always a Saluki

Through the years, Youchoff never lost his Saluki spirit. Although he lived in Georgia and Tennessee, he followed Saluki Athletics closely, particularly Saluki Men’s Basketball. For years, until Mary Agnes became ill, they would travel to Carbondale for the SIU Homecoming games. Later, it was a 2014 trip to campus that reignited his plan to help students.

“After so many years, Johnny wanted to visit his alma mater,” Anita Savio said. “So, he and John went on a road trip to SIU, where they ran into the associate athletic director of marketing. Their conversation brought back many great memories, reminding him of how much he loved the school.”

Youchoff then began working with the SIU Foundation on making a large-scale gift, but, due to life-changing events, it was never finalized. The Savios knew it was important to make this dream a reality.

“He had talked often about doing this,” John Savio said. “I reached out to the SIU Foundation and had lengthy discussions about what this fund would be. Of course, Johnny passed away before it came to fruition.”

Now, with the establishment of his fund, John and Anita Savio are confident that Youchoff would be pleased with the outcome.

“He really wanted to make sure that other young people could benefit from an education like he received at SIU,” Anita Savio said. “We are thrilled that we are able to fulfill this wish in his honor.”

Engage with us on LinkedInFacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Saluki love story leads to scholarships

Nick and Amanda Martin are paying it forward by establishing the Martin First-Generation Agricultural Student Scholarship.

Two $500 scholarships will be awarded annually to support first-generation students studying agricultural sciences who are also members of Sigma Alpha sorority or Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity.

Nick graduated from SIU in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in plant and soil science, and Amanda earned a bachelor’s degree in 2007 and master’s degree in 2008 in agribusiness economics.

Amanda grew up in the small town of Du Bois, Illinois, and credits her agriculture teacher for igniting her love of agriculture.

“I got involved in FFA in high school, and I fell in love with the service mindset,” Amanda said. “Farmers work every day making sure we can all live.

They are literally responsible for feeding and clothing the world. It is a noble profession.”

Nick fondly remembers helping his grandfather with his farm and working on other farms.

“I initially majored in architecture at SIU but it just wasn’t the right fit,” Nick said. “I talked to Karen Midden in SIU’s Department of Plant, Soil, and Agricultural Systems, and she helped steer me to a major in agriculture. Like Amanda, I fell in love with agriculture, especially landscape horticulture.”

SALUKIS IN LOVE

Nick and Amanda met through the Agbassador program, which is a student recruitment organization comprised of 12 outstanding students selected by faculty, administrators, and students. Students serve as speakers and present at high schools, community colleges, and attend career fairs and open houses across the country.

“Our advisor was Lucas Maxwell, and he would drive us to conferences and recruitment activities, so we had a lot of van time,” Amanda said. “I met Nick Martin through this organization and our team was always together. The longest journey was to the University of Florida for the national agriculture ambassador conference. I figured if we could stand someone for that long of a trip, then that’s a good indication that we’d get along.”

After their graduation, the Martins stayed in touch with Maxwell, and they developed a strong friendship that still exists today.

“We knew exactly who we wanted to officiate our wedding, the mentor that was with us from the start. Lucas became ordained online so he could officiate our wedding,” Nick said. “We got married in a historic little church called Kornthal Church in Jonesboro that sits in the middle of farmland. We felt it was appropriate to get married in the middle of such a big agricultural area. It felt natural and right to us.”

The wedding reception was basically a Saluki alumni event, Dean Gary Minish even gave a speech.

After leaving Carbondale, Nick and Amanda moved to Auburn, Alabama, where Nick graduated from Auburn University in 2011 with a master’s degree in forestry. During this time, Amanda served as the coordinator of recruitment for the Department of Poultry Science. They moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where Nick joined Bartlett Tree Experts, the world’s leading scientific tree and shrub care company. During this time, Amanda served as a middle school science teacher as part of the TEACH Charlotte program. Nick was then able to transition to a remote position in 2012, so Amanda could pursue her Ph.D. in higher education administration, which began at Auburn University. While enrolled in classes she worked with the Auburn University College of Agriculture as the coordinator of recruitment and alumni relations. Another door opened for Amanda and the team moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2016. Amanda finished her doctorate at LSU and became an Assistant Dean for the LSU College of Agriculture.

The couple recently moved to Algonquin, Illinois, where Amanda works with the executive team at the American Egg Board at the Chicago headquarters. Amanda’s background within agriculture and education, continue to guide her professional career. She assisted with the White House Easter Egg Roll, and her current focus project is on developing the college internship program. Nick is now the vice president of Bartlett Consulting where he leads an international team throughout the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom. His work has taken him to numerous university campuses in the U.S., several U.S. Army bases, oil refineries in Canada, hurricane-ravaged properties in Florida, the historic mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, and his all-time favorite, several royal properties in the United Kingdom including Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace.

GIVING BACK

The impetus behind establishing the two $500 scholarships is due to a $500 scholarship Amanda was offered through the SIU College of Agriculture.

“No one in my family had gone to college, and it just wasn’t on my radar,” Amanda said. “So, when I received that scholarship offer, it made me feel like someone believed in me. I felt for the first time that I could be successful, and it was enough to make me commit. We would love to grow our scholarship and help more students in the future.”

Nick says he hopes more people give back to SIU in whatever capacity they have.

“With our careers, we don’t have a lot of time to volunteer, but over the years we saved and what we can give just might help a student out with paying for books,” he said. “Whatever you can do to help out is important.”

Nick was recently honored at last year’s Ag Banquet and received a MidCareer Alumni Award.

“It was great to be back in Carbondale last fall to receive such a great honor. We would love to get more involved with SIU now that we live in Illinois,” he said. “We have plans for attending Homecoming and going to a football game. We love being back in the place where we fell in love.”

Engage with us on LinkedInFacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Saluki Friendship Leads to Major Donation

Gift reinforces fund that support students with disabilities

Gail Mrkvicka headshot

When Gail Mrkvicka, ’64 and ’66, befriended Jim Greenwood they had an instant connection.

“Jim was such a positive person,” Mrkvicka said. “Even though he was confined to a wheelchair, I never heard him once complain. Instead, he was probably one of the most positive people I have ever met in my life. He never let his disability keep him from doing anything – whether it was attending sporting events or going to Shryock Auditorium. The physical challenges never seemed to affect his college years, and he was one of the most popular and magnetic students I ever met. He became one of my closest friends while at SIU.”

Both Greenwood and Mrkvicka worked as resident fellows, he at Thompson Point and she at Kellogg Hall.

“I remember we would always eat lunch together at the cafeteria in Lentz Hall. We also used to hang out and get coffee at the coffee shop at University Drug Store,” Mrkvicka said. “We really enjoyed each other’s company, and we would share our challenges of being resident fellows. Both Jim and I stayed at SIU, got our bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Jim and I both received our master’s degrees in higher education administration.”

Upon graduation, their paths went in separate directions. Mrkvicka eventually became a dean at Russell Sage College, a small women’s college in Troy, New York. She later worked for the city of Rensselaer, New York, as a grants administrator.

A Friendship Rekindled

Mrkvicka grew tired of the harsh winters and was battling health issues in 1999 when a friend suggested she relocate to Sarasota, Florida.

“Florida sounded really good to me at the time, and it has proven to be a great place to retire,” she said.

Soon after she moved to Sarasota, Mrkvicka recalls reading the local newspaper where she saw a photo of a vaguely familiar face.

“I hadn’t seen Jim Greenwood in years, but in the photo that accompanied the article, the man had a SIU baseball cap on. I knew then that had to be Jim,” she said.

She reached out to Jim, and they renewed their friendship along with Jim’s wife, Martha.

“Jim came to SIU from Maine, partly because SIU was one of the few institutions that provided access to students with disabilities in the 1960s,” Mrkvicka said. “He loved SIU and was a life member of the SIU Alumni Association and was active in its Central Florida Chapter.”

SIU has been an advocate for people with disabilities since the 1950s, when Delyte Morris tasked Guy Renzaglia with equipping campus with necessary improvements. Renzaglia helped make SIU one of the few universities at the time to provide services for the blind, deaf, and persons using wheelchairs.

A Commitment Reinforced

In 2013, the Greenwoods established the Jim and Martha Greenwood Fund, created through their estate. It provides $1.3 million in scholarships for students with disabilities who are studying science and engineering. The first scholarship was awarded in 2014.

“The Greenwoods left a powerful legacy by supporting the university that welcomed him in the 1960s, well before the Americans with Disabilities Act required campuses to be accessible,” said SIU Foundation CEO Matt Kupec. “It is the generosity of people like the Greenwoods for which we are forever grateful. He and his wife’s substantial gift make it possible for other students with disabilities to attend SIU.”

Mrkvicka recently decided to make a $1 million estate gift to the Jim and Martha Greenwood Fund.

“Like Jim and Martha, I just want to make the lives of students with disabilities easier while they attend SIU,” she said. “I don’t want them worrying about paying tuition or renting books. I just want them to enjoy their college years like Jim did.”

Matt Solverson, president of the SIU Foundation, said Mrkvicka’s gift will broaden the Greenwoods’ fund and continue SIU’s national reputation for assisting students with disabilities.

“Fortunately, when he came to SIU, our facilities and staff were able to accommodate him and provide an outstanding educational experience, which he remembered for the rest of his life,” Solverson said. “Ms. Mrkvicka’s gift is a great testament to the lifelong friendships that SIU cultivates.”

Engage with us on LinkedInFacebookTwitter and Instagram.

The George Bates Foundation Continues its Philanthropy to SIU and the Southern Illinois Region

Left to right: Dr. Bruce DeRuntz, Director of Development Jason Fairfield, Dr. Mike Murray, Dean Xiaoqing “Frank” Liu, and SIU Foundation CEO Matt Kupec

By Rebecca Renshaw

The College of Engineering, Computing, Technology, and Mathematics received $50,000 from a longtime supporter of the university.

Dr. Mike Murray, trustee of the George A. Bates Memorial Foundation, presented Dean Xiaoqing “Frank” Liu with a $50,000 check to go toward the George A. Bates Memorial Scholarship. This scholarship supports the college, the Leadership Development Program and the STEM Research Center.

“Dr. Murray and the George Bates Memorial Foundation have been great supporters of our college,” Dean Liu said. “These scholarships are important to our college, and we are deeply grateful to the Bates Foundation for its history of partnering with SIU.

“We have the passion and the dedication. Not only that, we deliver. We are working on enrollment growth and retention as well as the student activities. This generous gift will help us achieve our goals.”

Bates was a successful stock market investor and avid big game hunter. He was born in 1903 in the Chicago area, and resided in Cary until his death. The Bates Foundation was formed when he passed away in 1989. The foundation provides funding to numerous charitable organizations, as determined by its board of trustees. Along with SIU, the foundation supports The Hope Light Project, a cancer awareness organization, also located in southern Illinois.

“Mr. Bates believed in supporting education,” Murray said. “It has been an honor to be a trustee for the George A. Bates Memorial Foundation, and it was a privilege to deliver this check.”

Other organizations the foundation has supported in Southern Illinois include Brehm School, SIH Cancer Institute, the Poshard Foundation, Saluki Kids Academy, and Lead SI. The foundation supports eight different charities and has donated over $3 million dollars in the last 10 years. A total of $6 million has been donated since its inception.

“It is my hope that more people in this area recognize that a Chicago-based foundation cares deeply about the Southern Illinois region and its residents,” Murray said.

Murray was instrumental in securing funding from the Bates Foundation. As a close friend and confidant of Bates, Murray was aware of Bates’ philanthropic tendencies. He submitted a proposal for support in 1997 while working as a central development officer for the SIU Foundation. Now, as a Bates Foundation trustee, he continues to provide funding to scholarships at the College of Engineering.

“The SIU Foundation appreciates the long-time support Mike Murray and the Bates Foundation has given to SIU. Support from organizations such as the Bates Foundation is integral to advancing our academic mission,” said Matt Kupec, CEO of the SIU Foundation. “These types of gifts show a truly inspiring commitment to higher education and the Saluki spirit.”

The Bates Foundation looks for two things when deciding to support an organization: Dedication by the organization to the mission and passion for the cause of those representing the organization.

“I know Dean Liu and know Matt Kupec very well,” Murray said. “I have no doubt this money will be put to good use.”

Engage with us on LinkedInFacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Alumnus pays it forward with an endowed scholarship for East St. Louis graduates

Darius Robinson and his wife Norlander

Darius Robinson ’95 ’98 recently established an endowment at SIU for students graduating from East St. Louis High School. Robinson graduated from SIU with a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology and a master’s degree in manufacturing systems.

Robinson said his father was a contributing factor in deciding to establish the scholarship.

“My father, Johnnie Robinson, was a big giver in terms of leadership, discipline, and being a role model. He was my baseball coach in East St. Louis when I was eight years old until I reached 18 years of age. There were a lot of kids on the team who did not have a father figure, so I learned to share my dad with the rest of the team. What is remarkable about my dad is that he did not get paid for that, and he gave many hours to bridge the gap for so many young people,” Robinson said.

Robinson’s father always taught him that when you come home from work, you don’t just come home and focus on yourself.

“You make yourself productive by helping others. He taught me that giving back is how you make a difference in your community and in your life,” he said.

In 2016, Robinson joined I AM ABLE, a not-for-profit Chicago charity that enriches the lives of students from 8th grade through college who aspire to become medical doctors. In addition, Darius joined the Sister Cities Committee of Hanover Park. As a Sister Cities Committee member, Darius volunteers to support an elementary school in Cape Coast Ghana, West Africa. In addition to Cape Coast Ghana, volunteer support is given to an elementary school in Zacatecas Mexico. He volunteers on the weekend and often travels to other countries to help local schools with supplies and needed assistance. Robinson said that by volunteering and through the SIU scholarship he established, he can help a student want to be a better person and get an education so that it gives their life purpose.

“I hope this example of how I am living my life spurs others to pay it forward in their communities and create a cycle of giving back to others,” Robinson said.

Robinson and his wife, Norlander, reside in Hanover Park, Illinois, where Robinson works as an operations manager for Menzies Aviation. His role is to manage the jet fuel and hydrant system that is used to fuel the aircrafts at O’Hare International Airport.

“SIU prepared me well for my career. Most of my professors were industrial engineers and they did a great job of teaching me how to analyze a situation and how to trouble shoot and achieve my objectives,” Robinson said.

When Robinson is not volunteering, he enjoys studying ancient history and religion.

“I consider myself a life student. I’ve made several trips to the pyramids in Egypt and by going through the tombs, I learned how Africans contributed to the world by building the pyramids. I am fascinated by history,” Robinson said.

Mueller, Deloitte Foundation make $100K investment in diversity

Pledge creates School of Accountancy fund to benefit students

Southern Illinois University Carbondale, like many institutions, has made diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority.

Beth Mueller, an SIU alumna and SIU Foundation board member, and the Deloitte Foundation, have made a financial commitment that reflects that mission.

Mueller, a Carterville native, recently made a pledge of $50,000 to the School of Accountancy, which the Deloitte Foundation will match dollar-for-dollar. Together, that $100,000 will establish the Deloitte Foundation Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Fund at the School of Accountancy.

“It’s something the Deloitte Foundation and I are enthusiastic about,” Mueller said.

The goal is to bring more diversity into the accounting profession, particularly by making it easier for students to meet the requirements to achieve CPA certification. As a tax partner at Deloitte Tax LLP, Mueller knows firsthand the importance of representation.

“Incorporating DEI into an organization’s strategy is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense,” Mueller said. “Teams made up of people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and points of view perform better.”

Strengthening the university’s dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion is one of the five pillars of Chancellor Austin Lane’s Imagine 2030 strategic plan. The College of Business and Analytics has been a leader in this area, and this pledge embodies the necessary dedication to that goal.

“Through this fund, we want to amplify SIU’s programs,” Mueller said. “SIU is positioned to serve a diverse population of students. It’s a place that has historically given all people a chance.”

The contribution by Deloitte Foundation reflects Deloitte’s ongoing dedication to driving greater diversity in accounting. Through its $75 million MADE (Making Accounting Diverse and Equitable) commitment, Deloitte is working to fuel greater racial and ethnic diversity in accounting through a comprehensive strategy that aims to attract more diverse individuals into the field and support them as they chart their pathway from high school to business professional to leadership in the profession.

While becoming a CPA requires proven professional qualifications, such as rigorous educational, exam, and experience requirements, this fund can help students aspire to a CPA career and cultivate inclusive pipelines of CPA talent.

“Many major organizations are seeking more diversity as a way to better reflect society as a whole,” Mueller said. “The underlying challenge the profession is facing is the ability to both drive awareness and attract diverse candidates to the tax and accounting field.”

Mueller sees this fund as part of a full-circle tool that can boost existing programs, increase awareness among younger students who are interested in accountancy, and help bridge the gap for those who plan to become CPAs.

“We want to advance students of diverse backgrounds and increase their visibility across the profession,” she said. “Many groups are underrepresented in the world of accountancy, and we feel very passionately about changing that trajectory.”

For more information about the SIU Foundation and how to give, visit siuf.org.

Remembering the past and building a better future

Gene and Laura Basanta have always been interested in society and what is going on around them, particularly societal injustices. When they came across information while researching their ancestors, they knew they needed to act.

In late 2021, the Basantas established a $25,000 scholarship fund for Black, Indigenous and Persons of Color (BIPOC) students studying agriculture at SIUC. In 2022, they donated another $25,000 to the scholarship.

“Recently, we began researching our ancestries. I come from a deep farming background and our farmland is still actively being farmed,” Laura said. “Doing some research, I discovered that in the will of my fourth great-grandfather, a Revolutionary War veteran, there is a listing of his property, which included slaves. Just reading the names, ages, and gender of those individuals listed next to curtains, a ladle, and a mule was deeply disturbing to me.”

Both Laura and Gene’s ancestors came from an agrarian background. Laura’s ancestors have been farming in Kentucky for 150 years and Gene’s ancestors owned a sugar plantation in West Indies in the 1800s.

Gene, who is the SIU School of Law’s Southern Illinois Healthcare Professor of Law Emeritus, made a similar discovery when he began searching his family roots. Like Laura, his ancestors owned several slaves.

“I learned my family operated a sugar plantation in Trinidad. Slaves fueled the operations of such plantations. While Laura and I honor and revere our ancestors, we also must acknowledge that our current privilege came in part from the work of enslaved individuals,” Gene said.

Supporting the future of ag

The Basantas have an interest in agriculture and are aware that SIU’s College of Agricultural, Life, and Physical Sciences is making great strides, especially through its sustainability programs.

“As we reflected on what we learned, we knew we had to do something and a scholarship for Black students at SIU seemed appropriate,” Laura said. “And because we both love agriculture, we turned to Dean (Eric) Brevik from the college and talked how we could set up an agriculture scholarship.”

Gene said the scholarship gives he and Laura personal satisfaction, and they hope it makes a difference in the lives of students.

“We want to give students opportunities to do great things. We know that our faculty accomplishes important work,” he said. “But when students go and accomplish greatness, that is the greatest satisfaction of all.”

Dean Brevik is thankful for the support of the Basantas.

“We are very grateful to the Basantas for supporting minority students who want to major in agriculture,” he said. “It is very important that we have a diverse agricultural workforce.”

SIU legacy

The Basantas have a long history with SIU and the Carbondale community.

Beyond his emeritus title, Gene was a professor in the Department of Medical Humanities at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. He also founded SIU’s Center for Health Law & Policy. In 1989, he helped create the law school’s M.D./J.D. program. He served as interim dean for the law school in 2002.

Laura and Gene moved to Carbondale in 1980 and began establishing their family. Prior to their move, Laura received a BFA from Louisville School of Art and has produced art while working and raising their children.

Both have served the community with many groups, including The Varsity Center, Women’s Center, Carbondale Community Arts, and the General John A. Logan Museum.

Learn more about making a similar impact at siuf.org.

Remembering John Jones: Scholarship endowed, degree awarded

Professor-student bond inspires fundraising effort

Black and white photo of John Jones.

Image of John Jones.

By Jeff Wilson

When John Jones entered his first class with professor Brad Hagy he made an immediate impression.

“He sat in the front row,” said Hagy, a senior lecturer of information sciences and technology at SIU. “He was a model student and was going to do anything to further his future.”

Jones, who worked in IT for the SIU Foundation, passed away suddenly on Tuesday, April 27, 2021.  In Jones’ memory, Hagy donated $10,000 to establish the John E. Jones Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship will benefit non-traditional students who are majoring in Information Technology (ITEC).

With the large donation from Hagy and support from numerous donors through the SIU Foundation’s crowdfunding platform, SalukiFunder, the scholarship was recently endowed with $25,000. The scholarship will produce a $1,000 scholarship each year.

During the 2022 Spring Commencement, Jones was honored with a posthumous Bachelor of Science from the College of Engineering, Computing, Technology, and Mathematics. Members of Jones’ family attended the ceremony to receive his degree.

“We offer our sincere condolences to the family and share your pride in his accomplishments,” Chancellor Austin Lane said.

To make a gift to the John E. Jones Memorial Scholarship, visit salukifunder.siu.edu/johnjones.

‘He wasn’t just a student’

The 37-year-old Jones was one semester away from earning his bachelor’s degree in information technology. He made straight A’s and was on the Dean’s List every semester.

“I want to promote what John loved,” Hagy said. “He was working to better his life. I want to help students like John.”

Jones had started his college career in 2002, but he left school after his father passed away. He returned to SIU more than 14 years later determined to get his degree. In an email to Hagy after the Spring 2020 semester, Jones shared his appreciation.

“The one thing that we all lose is time, and there is not a way to get that back,” Jones said in the email. “So, in my journey, I was fortunate enough to meet people at SIU that reminded me of myself as a young man fresh out of high school living carefree and people that are willing to help anyone who gives their time to learn. Mr. Hagy you have made this transition from working full-time to full-time student one of the best experiences I have ever had.”

Reading that message, in which Jones goes on to express his hopes for the future, Hagy can’t help but become a bit choked up.

“John understood time,” he said. “He knew he had lost time, but he was still willing to go back and get his degree. In that email, he was speaking from his heart and for his future.”

Hagy spoke at Jones’ memorial service and has remained close to Jones family, to the point that Jones’ mother gifted a pair of blue and white Air Jordan from his shoe collection that matched the color of Jones’ motorcycle. They were both members of the Carbondale Eagles 2569 Eagle Riders motorcycle club that has an annual charity ride for the Southern Illinois Special Olympics.

“Those shoes are now on the shelf in my office,” Hagy said. “He wasn’t just a student. He was a great person, a friend.”

John Jones, 1983-2021

Born and raised in Carbondale, Jones exceled in math and information technology. More than anything, Jones is remembered as a family man.

He is survived by his son, Jerald Cameron Jones; and fiancé, Tamara Buchannan-Boens; and her sons, Christopher Buchannan, Warren Eanes, and Dominique Boens. He is also survived by his mother, Debra Johnson-Jones; sister, Raven-Iman Jones; grandmother, Barbara Sanders; and a host of aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Jones enjoyed participating in American Poolplayers Association competitions, riding his motorcycle with his fellow Eagle Riders, shooting targets at the gun range, and working on and building computer/robotics systems.

After his planned graduation, the SIU Foundation was set to make Jones a full-time member of the IT staff.

“We thought the world of John,” said Matt Kupec, CEO of the SIU Foundation. “He was liked by all. His words and his actions were always consistent. Everyone at the Foundation was deeply saddened by his untimely passing. Professor Hagy’s inspiring gift is a testament to their connection and the impact they had on one another.”

Pictured left to right: Brad Hagy and Matt Kupec

Engage with us on LinkedInFacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Day of Giving trophies awarded: B.E.E.R. Scholarship donors, COLA, Law, Medicine, and Athletics honored

By Jeff Wilson

The SIU Day of Giving trophy presentation has become a tradition that puts an exclamation point on the annual fundraiser.

Each year, the SIU Foundation hands out five trophies honoring areas of campus that performed the best during the Day of Giving, but this year a sixth trophy was added. The winners are:

  • College of Liberal Arts: Largest Dollar Amount Raised, Academic Unit
  • School of Medicine: Most Individual Gifts, Academic Unit
  • College of Liberal Arts: Largest Average Gift
  • Saluki Athletics: Largest Dollar Amount Raised, Non-Academic Unit
  • Balancing Education, Experience & Reality (B.E.E.R.) Scholarship: Most Individual Gifts, Non-Academic Unit
  • School of Law: Highest Alumni Participation Rate

SIU Foundation CEO Matt Kupec kicked things off by expressing his appreciation for everyone involved in the Day of Giving and his excitement for the future of the Forever SIU fundraising campaign.

The most recent goal for the Forever SIU campaign was $200 million, but the Foundation recently surpassed that goal early, and the campaign was extended to 2028.

“This year, we set a Day of Giving goal of $3 million, and in typical Saluki fashion, we surpassed expectations by raising more than $3.5 million,” he said. “At the end of the Day of Giving, we kicked off the Saluki Takeover Tour in St. Louis, and Chancellor (Austin) Lane announced to the world that we would raise that goal to $500 million.”

The success of the Day of Giving and the extension of the Forever SIU campaign fit perfectly into the Imagine 2030 strategic plan set forth by Chancellor Lane.

“We don’t get to 2030 without your support, your energy, and your stories,” he said to the crowd gathered at the front steps of Shryock Auditorium. “I can feel the passion, the excitement, and the energy. We can get there, and that’s because of you, our alumni.”

President Dan Mahony and Chancellor Lane both came to SIU when the Day of Giving goal was a bit more modest.

“When I first came to SIU, the Day of Giving goal was $1 million, and we shot past that. At the time, Matt (Kupec) told me we could do even better, but I never envisioned we would be at $3.5 million,” he said.

Andrew Balkansky, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts, received two trophies during the ceremony. The college raised $723,265 on the Day of Giving and had the largest average gift.

“We made this a priority from Day One,” he said. “It takes a great team, and we have that here.”

Dr. Jerry Kruse, dean of the School of Medicine, accepted his school’s trophy and promised to take it to locations across the state. The school had 372 individual donors.

“The best thing is the spirit of working together,” he said. “This will be a true traveling trophy.”

Saluki Athletics finished with a Day of Giving total of $109,645. Kupec, who is also the interim athletic director, was handed his department’s trophy by Chancellor Lane.

“The future of Saluki Athletics is incredibly bright,” he said. “You know what SIUC stands for – Southern Illinois University of Champions.”

The School of Law earned the new Saluki Spirit Award, which honors the academic unit that saw the highest rate of alumni participation during the Day of Giving.

“Res ipsa loquitur. That’s Latin for ‘It speaks for itself,’” said Camille Davidson, dean of the School of Law. “We may be small, but we are mighty.”

Represented by about 15 alumni, the group known for the B.E.E.R. Scholarship was honored with a trophy for the fourth consecutive year. This year, 698 individuals made a gift to the scholarship fund.

“The amazing thing about this one is how many people donate to it,” said Jim Raffensperger, who represented the group. “Small donations make a large difference. This year, there were six B.E.E.R. Scholarships awarded from this fund. Amazing.”

For more about the Forever SIU campaign, visit foreversiu.org.