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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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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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.

 

Posted in Donor StoriesHigher EducationIllinois Higher EducationSIU

Grant Opens Door to Podcasting

SIU English department podcasting lab.

SIU English department podcasting lab.

By Rebecca Renshaw

It’s hard telling students in a creative writing class to be innovative if they are limited to methods taught only in the pre-internet era. That’s what English professor Pinckney Benedict was forced to do without the necessary technology at hand. When Benedict learned his department received a $7,500 grant from the SIU Foundation to purchase podcasting equipment last spring, he was thrilled.

“The money did not just help. I have no idea what I would have done without it,” Benedict said. He was scheduled to teach two podcasting classes last spring with minimal equipment. “It was going to be tough putting together the program, so the funds utterly changed what we were able to do.”

Benedict, a Princeton graduate who was taught by such greats as Joyce Carol Oates, long ago realized that captivating fictional writing is not just for the standard page. He believes writing using the latest technology is the next step and that podcasting is a growing outlet.

“Our stories should be tellable across the spectrum of technology and time,” he said.
The foundation’s funding resulted in two of Benedict’s students, who took his podcasting class last spring, to win awards for their creative works in the prestigious Missouri Review, one of the country’s oldest and respected literary magazines.

Miller Audio Prize
Mandi Jourdan, a third-year MFA student in creative writing from Vandalia, Illinois, won first place in the prose category of the Missouri Review’s Miller Audio Prize. Jourdan is extremely grateful to the foundation for the equipment it provided.

“Before we received the grant from the foundation, we were working with just one microphone in a corner of a professor’s office,” she said. “Without the podcasting equipment, I simply would not have won first place.”

Will Holcomb, also a third-year MFA student in creative writing from Kirksville, Missouri, received runner-up from the Missouri Review in the humor division.

Holcomb says that he came to SIU because he was looking for a workshop environment, and he heard great things about the SIU program.

“I am working on projects here that I never thought I could get near. Professor Benedict has been critical to my success. Without him, there would not be much of a fiction writing program at SIU. This entire podcasting experience is extremely worthwhile, and I have to thank everyone for giving me this experience,” Holcomb said.

Donations Transform Education
Benedict encourages other donors to help, regardless if their donations are large or small.

“While the foundation’s grant of $7,500 is certainly not a million dollars, it transformed the writing program here at SIU. We are doing things now we could never have done before, winning prizes we could never have received without it, and it has pushed us into new territories, such as podcasts and 360 film making,” he said.

In fact, based on the success from this initial foundation grant, an English department alumnus recently made a gift to launch a technology fund for the department, encouraging the continued use of more innovative technologies to teach writing and 21st century storytelling.

“I would encourage everyone to give a relatively modest gift to whatever fuels their passion. For me, personally, that $7,500 gift changed the direction of my research and my teaching,” Benedict said.

Want to learn how you can contribute?
If you would like to learn how to give, please visit siuf.org.
To listen to the one-minute trailers for the winning podcasts, visit anchor.fm/siuc-mfa-podcasting.

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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