Creative Gifts

By Angela Johansson, M.A. ’05

Even if individually we’re never quite able to give enough to name a building or establish an endowment, we all have gifts to give.

Whether they gave their time and talent or they joined forces with others to make a larger gift, the following alumni have had an impact on NIU. They prove that together, we can—and do—make a difference.

Nationally renowned artist sells her work to provide scholarships to art students

“Giving back is not difficult. Anyone can do it,” says Lisa Frost (’93 Art Education).”I hosted my first event for NIU in my living room with my baby in a bassinet beside me.”

That first event, “Frost and Friends,” showcased the talented alumna’s bright, whimsical art, and inspired other local talent to join her. Today, the show is a highly celebrated and attended tradition in the Rockford, Illinois, area.

Frost reconnected with Northern when she was invited to teach at NIU’s Visual Arts Camp, “Summer in the Arts.” She was touched by the experience. “There were all these kids who were so passionate. And a student from a big powerhouse school like New Trier could sit next to a student from a small-town rural high school and they would connect and engage and discuss art!” It was then that the energetic entrepreneur decided to sell her work to fund scholarships to bring more students to art camp.

Frost says her NIU professors gave her a great deal more than artistic training; they also made her an advocate for the arts and for higher education. Those advocacy skills have come in handy as she works to effect change in her community. “In Rockford, we struggle to get more young people to go to college, and there is no better way to get students to attend college than to give them a taste of what it’s like to be there…to provide them an NIU experience.”

She continues, “Kids in art camp live in the dorms; they get to walk around and see campus and they see what it’s like to learn from NIU’s wonderful teachers. That’s an opportunity they won’t get anywhere else.”

“I don’t think people in Rockford realize we have a world-class university just 30 minutes away,” she says.

Frost hopes her efforts help change that.

To date, the proceeds from “Frost and Friends” have funded 42 scholarships to bring deserving high school students to the Visual Arts Camp.

Jefferson High School student Rodrigo Dominguez received one of those scholarships. “It was one of the best experiences of my life,” he says. “I had so much fun, but I also learned a lot about myself as an artist.”

Frost says one of her proudest achievements is having created her dream career and a lifestyle that allows her to give back. “If you listen to your heart, you’ll know how your gifts can help others, and that’s the greatest feeling in the world,” she says.

Recipients of Frost’s generosity, like Dominguez, agree: “Words cannot express my gratitude,” says the college-bound senior.

Family honors great aunt’s memory with a gift to Campus Child Care

Two-year-old Kara is too busy playing the giant bongo drums on the Campus Child Care (CCC) center playground to stop to talk for long. But she does pause long enough to say the bongos are one of her favorite toys there. Evidently, the bongos have prompted conversations about music with her parents. “I like to say ‘glaukenspleeo’ because my mom and dad like me to say it,” she adds.

The Hull family

Little does the aspiring musician know, her newest vocabulary word—and the piece of playground equipment that inspired it—were made possible by a family whose children learned and grew at the CCC center years before her.

“Brian and I were in the car when we made the decision to give to the child care center,” remembers Betsy Hull (’94 Accountancy). “Our great aunt Hazel had passed away and remembered us in her estate. We wanted to use her gift for something meaningful for our family. We agreed it would be the perfect way to honor her.”

Graduating from the center was a major milestone for each of the three Hull children: Tyler, now 12; Jacob, 8; and Adyson, 6. “We wanted to show everyone there how much they’ve meant to us,” Hull says.

The family let the staff and teachers decide how to use the money. Keeping with the center’s play-based curriculum, they chose to buy something all the children could enjoy: the giant bongo drum set, which today is a playground favorite.

“The kids love the bongos,” says Christine Kipp, director of Campus Child Care. “Last summer, we had a student who played them every day he was here. They helped with his drop-off transition,” she adds. “It was a wonderful gift, and we are blessed to have the support of a family like the Hulls.”

Brian and Betsy say they feel blessed to be part of the CCC family. They remember that choosing someone to take care of their children while they worked was one of the most important, and toughest, decisions they faced when they moved to Sycamore. The couple has been very pleased with their choice. “It was one of the best decisions we ever made,” says Hull. “Our kids got a top-notch experience.”

“From the moment we walked in the door, we felt like part of the family,” Hull says, mentioning that she has fond memories of each teacher. “They always kept me up-to-date and sent me pictures of the kids.”

Brian and Betsy say they are grateful that the staff helped Tyler make friends when he arrived mid-semester and encouraged their second son Jacob as he grew out of his shyness. Thanks to the center, the couple’s youngest, Adyson, is a confident first grader who is proud to have followed in her brothers’ footsteps.

The experience made the Hulls believers in the center’s play-based curriculum, which is guided by the philosophy that children learn best through exploration and interaction. Betsy explains, “Not only have our children excelled in school, they’ve learned to be respectful of their teachers and their friends.” She laughs, “They even clean up after themselves.”

“We will forever be grateful for the experience the Campus Child Care center provided, not only for our children but for us as parents,” says Hull.

Fittingly, when asked his favorite way to travel, Jacob Hull says “Forward.” And that’s the direction all three little Huskie graduates are clearly headed. As some of NIU’s youngest donors, Jacob, Adyson, and Tyler learned another valuable lesson along  the way: There is joy in creating a legacy by giving back.

Donors enable a gifted vocalist to complete her degree

“When I sing, I have wings. I can fly!” says Moonja Jeong (’12 Performance).

As a music major, the gifted international student has captured the community’s heart with her powerful voice and gentle spirit. “Voices that are that musical and that strong inspire everyone around them,” says Eric Johnson, director of choral activities.

Moonja Jeong

Jeong says she sees her talent as a “little gift;” one she graciously shares with the NIU community every chance she gets. Lynne
Waldeland, retired NIU English professor and interim provost, was in the audience at one of those performances. “She took people’s breath away,” she says. “Before the applause, there was a moment of stunned silence.”

Just when things seemed like they couldn’t get any better for the rising star, Jeong got the devastating news that family circumstances would make it impossible for her to pay her senior year’s tuition. She realized she might have to leave NIU. But, alumni and friends weren’t about to let that happen.

“We are very fortunate to have a number of dedicated and thoughtful donors ready to step up in an emergency,” says John Bass, executive director of gift and estate planning.

“When we heard about Moonja’s urgent situation, we knew that we needed to provide assistance. Failure was not an option,” says Bass. “If I had to go out and stand on the corner with a tin cup, I would have gladly done so,” he adds.

Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary. With help from several donors, the university was able to provide Jeong a scholarship to finish her senior year. Today, the talented, grateful performer says she’s proud to have performed for hundreds of donors, friends, and alumni at the NIU Foundation’s 2012 Red and Black event.

Jeong says she wants to give back to those who have helped her along the way. After all, she says, “This school gave me a miracle.”

A grieving family bands with donors like Amy Springmire to honor a daughter’s memory

Amy Springmire (’11 Spanish) was a freshman when she made her first gift to NIU. She made the gift that Christmas when her little sister, Kelly Kietzmann, asked for donations to charities in lieu of presents. Springmire made her donation to a memorial scholarship for Kelly’s close friend, Alexa Rae Bertram.

Alexa Bertram was an intelligent, thoughtful high school graduate with a bright future ahead of her. She was excited to have been accepted to Northern. “NIU is the only school Alexa applied to,” says her mother, Micki Krzywy. “She was sure that’s where she wanted to be.”

Every time someone made a gift, I received a note from NIU. I think our first donation was $10. Every gift meant someone was reaching out to us. —Micki Krzywy

Alexa’s plans for her future didn’t stop there. The bright young woman also planned to attend graduate school and become a clinical social worker.

But Alexa never got that chance. She died unexpectedly just two weeks after her high school graduation. To honor their daughter’s memory, her family set out to raise money for scholarships to help other students realize their dreams at Northern.

Kelly Kietzmann and Amy Springmire

Providing ongoing scholarships would require them to create an endowment, which meant they needed to raise $25,000 in three years. Once the fund reached endowment level, a scholarship could be awarded in Alexa’s honor each year, forever.

Together, the family got to work. They organized an ice cream sale, “dine-out” nights, bowling events, and poker games. They coordinated with local retailers to hold shop-and-share days. “While we were out there pounding the pavement, the outpouring of love and support was amazing,” Micki recalls.

“Every time someone made a gift, I received a note from NIU,” she says. “I’ve displayed them all with Alexa’s picture. I think our first donation was for $10. Every gift to Alexa’s scholarship meant someone was reaching out to us.”

With the help of 150 donors, the family reached their goal. The average gift to Alexa’s scholarship fund was just over $160.

“We thought it would have been more difficult with the bad economy, but we were pleasantly surprised,” says Micki. “I wrote a thank-you note to every donor. I wanted them to know how grateful we are for their kindness.”

Kelly Kietzmann and Alexa Bertram had been good friends. “There was no better gift for my sister than to give toward her friend’s scholarship. They were so close,” Springmire says. “Telling Kelly where I chose to make my gift was a special moment between us as sisters.”

“We are very proud that we reached this goal in memory of Alexa. Her legacy will continue,” says Micki. She’s quick to emphasize that it was a group effort. “We had so much help from my parents,” she says. Cindy and Richard Krzywy have been by their daughter’s side from the beginning of her fundraising efforts.

“It’s been a privilege working with Micki and her family,” says Teri Gensler, director of major gifts for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “I admire their determination to turn their loss into support for future NIU students.”

Now an NIU graduate herself, Springmire is an elementary school Spanish teacher. “I like the feeling that I am making an impact,” she says. “I’m grateful that I was able to realize my dreams at NIU, and I’m honored to help others do the same.”

“I’m just glad to have any reason to talk about Alexa these days,” Micki explains. “I don’t get that chance very often now that she’s gone.” Micki will have one of those precious opportunities when she presents the award to this year’s recipient of Alexa’s scholarship. “It’s wonderful to meet the recipients,” she adds. “It’s one way we keep Alexa’s memory alive.”

Northern Fund donations help students place second in national ethics competition

If it weren’t for gifts to the Northern Fund, College of Business students Austin Schulte (’12 Marketing) and Sam Kunde (’12 Accountancy) say they might have spent the second weekend in October studying, or perhaps playing video games.

Thankfully, Northern Fund donors offered them a better option. They paid for the talented duo to fly to Arizona for the annual Collegiate Ethics Case Competition.

The trip was worth every penny.

Adam Schulte and Sam Kunde

Competing with teams representing nearly 30 universities from across the country, Schulte and Kunde placed second in the nation for their approach to a business case involving a family on the verge of foreclosure.

The students had three weeks to design their presentation, which was delivered before a panel of corporate-level judges. “Our time in Barsema Hall prepared us well. Teamwork, presentation skills, and sound, ethical business practices are just the beginning of what we’ve learned,” says Kunde. “It was exhilarating to be on the big stage with the rest of the nation’s top schools, and having a chance to put NIU in the spotlight.”

The two business majors also took top honors in the Bright Line Essay Competition, where they presented the philosophical positioning of their approach to the case. Judges praised their “practical and ethical approach” to the dilemma.

“This is the first year we sent students to the competition,” says Denise Schoenbachler, dean of the College of Business. “And we placed second in the nation,” she smiles. “They wouldn’t have been able to go without the support of the Northern Fund.”

“We’re thrilled with our finish,” Kunde says. “We’re proud to have represented NIU so well on the national stage, and most of all, we are grateful to the donors who made our trip possible.”