Category Archives: Philanthropic Women

World Travelers Give Back to Their Roots

Darlene Albert Knott, World Travelers Give Back to Their Roots

by Rebecca Renshaw

Nine hundred dollars. That was all she needed to remain in school.

But Darlene Albert Knott just didn’t have it.

That was back in 1969, when she was a sophomore at SIU.

Knott grew up in the small town of Mulberry Grove, Illinois in a farming family of five children. While the family always had food on the table, her parents didn’t have the extra money to continue her education in Carbondale after her sophomore year. And for her father, debt was something to be avoided.

“My father never borrowed money for my education,” she said. “He was just co-signing on a loan on my behalf. It was my responsibility to pay it back. He just did not like debt and thought I had already borrowed too much for the first two years. … So I had to withdraw from school. It broke my heart.”

It was a setback – though, thankfully, not a permanent one – for an intelligent young woman who made good grades in high school and impressed her high school math teacher so much that she encouraged her to apply to SIU.

She did – and, with a loan of $1,800, she arrived in Carbondale in 1967.

“My parents basically just dropped me off in front of Bowyer Hall in Thompson Point, and there I was,” she said. “I knew no one – and, coming from a tiny, rural area, I thought Carbondale was this huge city. I met all types of people from other cultures and countries, and it was magical.

“While most kids complain about the size or condition of their dorm rooms, I thought mine was wonderful because it had an indoor bathroom.”

Mark Knott, a Saluki patrol student at the time, recalls how he met his future wife.

“I was walking my rounds, and I kept running into this gorgeous girl in Lentz Hall,” he said. “She turned me down several times, but finally she agreed to go out with me. I was smitten.”

The Knotts agree that their professors at SIU made a tremendous impact on their lives.

“They were so passionate about what they were doing, and they took a genuine interest in the students,” Darlene Knott said. “I think that’s why SIU remains so near and dear to our hearts; it’s because of the influence of our professors.

“That, and the fact that we fell in love there.”

The couple married in 1970, and Mark Knott soon was drafted into the Vietnam War. By carefully saving their money, the Knotts returned to SIU and earned their degrees in 1975. They experienced successful careers in accounting and in securities brokerage firms until both retired to pursue a shared passion for travel. They have visited all seven continents, and their favorite destination is Africa, which they have visited 10 times.

“Our college educations transformed our lives, and we believe that education is the key to success and opportunity,” Darlene Knott said. “I look back at my life growing up in a rural community, and kids just weren’t encouraged to go onto college. Mark and I want to change that, so we created a scholarship for students in the Mulberry Grove area to receive an SIU scholarship for four years of room and board.

“We know that education was the opportunity to get out of a limited environment and go on to do something better. We just want to lend a helping hand so that no student should have to drop out of college and miss an opportunity to find success.”

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Achenbach shares rock-solid support for Campus Lake

Dean Achenbach gives back to SIU Campus Lake.

By Rebecca Renshaw

Laurie Achenbach has dedicated her professional life to science and SIU. On March 1, she strengthened that commitment by donating $10,000 on SIU’s inaugural Day of Giving.

Her generous gift was the first individual donation on the Day of Giving and was directed toward the Campus Lake Beautification Project. She challenged others to join her in the effort to restore and enhance one of the preeminent landmarks on campus.

“The lake is what brings us all together each day,” Achenbach, the dean of the College of Science, said. “You can step out of your office and walk a few feet to the edge of the lake and be transported by its beauty.”

Her donation will be used for an illuminated boulder, which will sit prominently in the water and be known as Achenbach Rock. The name will have special meaning to Achenbach, who said her siblings joked about having a male child and naming him Rock Achenbach.

“So this naming opportunity kind of made our collective family wish come true,” she said with a smile.

This isn’t the first time Achenbach has made a major donation to the university. In 2011, she created an endowed scholarship in her parents’ name as a way to honor their devotion to the importance of education.

“I came from a family of six children, and my work ethic came directly from my parents,” she said. “They instilled in each of us that getting an education is the fuel that will give you a better life.”

Achenbach came to SIU in 1990 as an assistant professor of microbiology. She steadily rose through the ranks, serving as associate dean before being named dean of the College of Science in 2014. Grateful for the opportunities the university has afforded her, she thought it was important to make a lasting impact.

“Through SIU, I was able to travel the world and do the research I loved most. Yet, it was always a joy to come home to Carbondale — to live, work and raise a family in a smaller community,” she said. “SIU gave me this life, and I feel strongly about giving back.”

Chelsea Coursey, director of development for the College of Science, said it sends a powerful message to members of the SIU community when they see such a positive example.

“Dean Achenbach is a thought leader on campus, and she serves as a powerful influence,” Coursey said.

Achenbach urged others to join her in sharing their collective passion for SIU.

“As I reflect on my life here, I feel so lucky,” she said. “It’s time I show my gratitude and show my pride for SIU and what it represents.”

 

Turning Dreams into a Reality

Lori Quig Scholarhsip Donor at Southern Illinois University

By Rebecca Renshaw

It often is said that while most of us dream about great things, engineers just go and do them.

That certainly rings true for Lori Quigg, a 1991 alumna of the SIU College of Engineering. Quigg didn’t let the fact that she was entering a male-dominated field stop her when she began her engineering education in 1988. She worked hard, made the grades and did the work necessary to get her degree.

Nor did it stop her a few years later, when she decided to start her own engineering firm.

“When you wake up one day and say, ‘Today is the day I’m going to go $500,000 in debt’ – well, that took some courage and perseverance,” she says, laughing. “But I did it somehow. There’s a fine line between being really smart and really stupid. Fortunately for me, everything worked in my favor.”

Quigg Engineering Inc., now headquartered in Springfield, Illinois, has seen steady success and growth over the past 10 years.

“We went from two employees in a little office in Jacksonville to now over 75 employees in multiple offices in Illinois, as well as Iowa and Florida,” Quigg says. “Yes, I work hard, but the saying is certainly true for me that ‘when you enjoy what you do, you are not really working.’ I go 24/7. In fact, my entire family’s motto is, ‘Work hard, play hard.’ ”

Quigg attributes much of her success to SIU.

“I loved SIU because the professors actually taught me what I needed to know,” she says. “Sometimes, at large universities, professors spend all their time on research while teaching assistants do the teaching. Not SIU. I found that my professors who taught me were all very accessible and caring. That made a big impact on me that I’ve never forgotten.”

Quigg recently decided to give back to SIU and help those following in her footsteps by establishing an endowed scholarship for female engineering students.

“Whenever I see an issue, I always try to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem,” she says. “I have seen a problem in the state of Illinois in hiring female and minorities. The fact is there is a definite shortage of female engineers. Even the Illinois Department of Transportation is being forced to search for job candidates in other states because there are so few female candidates.”

Quigg says that her daughter, a pre-med student at SIU, continues to see women struggle in traditionally male-dominated fields.

“I always knew for the last 20 years that I wanted to start a scholarship specifically for women,” Quigg says. “I know how much an education costs, and how frustrating it can be. This is something I did because I have walked that path. Now I want to give a helping hand to other women who want to pursue this type of degree.”

Quigg wants students to know that getting a degree in engineering doesn’t mean they must be exceptionally gifted students.

“I always tell young people that they don’t have to be brainiacs,” she says. “I assure them that, as long as they are mathematically inclined, they will be fine. They will be taught and they will learn. I also want them to know that an engineering degree can open so many doors of opportunity. From transportation to oil and gas or the government, engineers are needed in so many fields.

“It’s a great career choice as a woman, especially if you want to raise a family someday. I have always made my family a priority throughout my career, and I want to encourage other women to do the same, if that is their goal. My career choice has truly allowed me to have the best of both worlds.”

Planting Seeds of Philanthropy

Juh and Lin Chen

By Rebecca Renshaw

If you have the good fortune of visiting the home of Juh Wah Chen and Han Lin Chen in rural Carbondale, the phrase “bloom where you are planted” might spring to mind. Up and down the front sidewalk and spilling into the surrounding yard are breathtaking flowers and greenery – some cultivated, some exotic, and all astonishingly beautiful.

Han Lin Chen, a former professor at the SIU School of Engineering, began her gardening efforts upon her retirement in 1990.

“The soil was mostly hard clay, but I found I could dig one plant up where it wasn’t thriving and move it to another place that allowed it to grow,” she says.

The results are impressive.

The milestones in the Chens’ professional careers are impressive, too. Upon joining the SIU faculty in 1965, Juh Wah Chen and his wife, Han Lin Chen, began laying down stakes in Carbondale, raising their three children and helping grow the College of Engineering into the expansive success it is today.

Juh Wah Chen also retired from the college after serving as its dean for 10 years.

“I remember riding on the train from Chicago to Carbondale with Dean Julian Lauchner, who was a bit of an exaggerator at times,” he recalls. “Trying to lure me from my position at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, he told me great stories of SIU’s College of Engineering, about its facilities and the campus. It was only when we arrived in Carbondale when the dean confessed that the buildings were still under construction.”

“Nevertheless, because my wife had attended SIU earlier and received a master’s degree in chemistry, I already had a special place in my heart for both the community and the college. We moved our family to Carbondale, where we raised them in a little home on Skyline Drive. I saw the opportunity for growth Dean Lauchner laid before me, and I was up for the challenge.”

Adds Han Lin Chen: “We thought it was great because our children could walk to and from Winkler School, which was just down the block. Life was good in those days. It still is.”

Their affinity for growing and nurturing became evident throughout the next 33 years. Their biographies both contain a long list of “firsts” and are filled with major accomplishments, such as:

  • Juh Wah Chen developed the doctoral program in engineering science, was granted a half-million dollars from the Federal Department of Energy for a coal science project and in 1989 became dean of the college.
  • Han Lin Chen was one of the first few female faculty in the college. She helped the female students initiate the “Women in Engineering” program and served as an advisor for many years. She was also the first female faculty member to receive tenure from the college.

Even though both are now retired from SIU, the Chens retain a strong commitment to the university.

“Back when we were both active at the college, we would always have students over at our house, Han Lin Chen says. “We just opened the door to them and made sure we had food on hand. I remember one time we had over 100 students at our house. They were like family.”

Because of their love for the university and the community, the Chens recently established a School of Engineering Excellence Fund to provide undergraduate scholarships, assistance to young faculty members, and funds for external activities such as sponsoring guest speakers. The Excellence Fund will complement the couple’s two existing scholarship endowment funds to the college.

“SIU is our entire life,” Juh Wah Chen says. “We have always done the best we can for SIU and the College of Engineering. For us, money is of secondary importance. We live a simple life, and we don’t like to see things go to waste. If we can help and contribute, then we will. We just want to see SIU become sustainable, and we want to help move it forward.”

Han Lin Chen adds that the fellowship SIU offered her as a student was instrumental to her success.

“Without it, I know I would not have been able to come to the United States,” she says. “I am very grateful to SIU and all it has done for our family.”

Jeanne Hurley Simon Scholarship: Paying it Forward

jeanne-simon

By Rebecca Renshaw

We all know of power couples who have the influence to do big things in our world and make it a point to help those less fortunate.

SIU Carbondale takes pride and honor being associated with its own power couple: Paul and Jeanne Simon. Together, they forged a new landscape for the university, the state and the country.

When Paul Simon, an Illinois Democrat, left the United States Senate in 1997, Jeanne Simon joined him on SIU’s faculty as an adjunct professor of library affairs. Together, they helped found and shape the agenda of the SIU Public Policy Institute.

In 1993, Jeanne Simon had been named chair of the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, a post to which President Bill Clinton reappointed her in 1997. In that position she promoted literacy programs and financing for libraries.

David Yepsen, director of what is now the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, had this to say about the Jeanne Simon’s contributions: “She was a pioneering figure in her own right and was considered a true trailblazer. She was one of the few women law students at Northwestern University and one of the first female representatives in the General Assembly.”  Although Jeanne Simon passed away in 2000, Paul Simon continued their legacy until his passing in 2003.

A longtime Simon friend and former dean of SIU Library Affairs, Carolyn Wagner Snyder, sought a way to honor Jeanne Hurley Simon. Snyder helped establish the Jeanne Hurley Simon Memorial Scholarship to honor her life and legacy. In the last few months, Snyder and associate director, Delio Calzolari have worked tirelessly to raise commitments to endow the scholarship. Their small, but dedicated team has raised more than $60,000 so far.

The scholarship will honor Jeanne Simon’s legacy by providing financial assistance, mentorship and other opportunities to Illinois students interested in public service careers.

“In a very real way, this scholarship is an effort to keep Jeanne Simon’s mission alive by ‘paying it forward’ for other young women who want to pursue public service as Jeanne did,” Yepsen says.

The first student to benefit from the scholarship is Shantel Franklin, a first-generation college student from Chicago.

“Since my freshman year, I have witnessed the Paul Simon Institute go above and beyond to provide opportunities for students,” says Franklin, a political science major. “I am grateful to have been selected to be the inaugural recipient of this award honoring the remarkable life of Mrs. Jeanne Hurley Simon. I will benefit tremendously from the financial assistance of this scholarship.”