HARTFORD, Conn., June 6, 2014 –Paul Joseph Bilka was a self-described “city boy,” the son of Czech immigrants, who, in 1936, came to Hartford from New York City to study at Trinity College. When he died at age 94 in 2013, it is likely none of the children attending school in the neighborhoods around Trinity had ever heard his name. But in years to come, Bilka’s name could have a special significance for them if they apply to Trinity, are accepted for admission, and need tuition assistance.
Dr. Paul Bilka '40 and President Jones at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
An internationally known rheumatologist and professor of medicine who spent most of his life in Minneapolis, Bilka decided after retirement to make a series of gifts that would eventually generate student aid funding at Trinity. Over two decades, he established 23 charitable gift annuity funds. The approach appealed to him because it provided him with steady income and tax benefits during his lifetime and the knowledge that, after his death, the proceeds would benefit the Paul J. Bilka ’40 Trinity Neighborhood Scholarship Fund.
“Dr. Bilka was quite devoted to his alma mater and to helping students from humble backgrounds such as his own,” said Trinity College President James F. Jones, Jr. “It was of the utmost importance to him that kids from the neighborhood could look up the hill at Trinity and aspire to attend this College. He wanted Trinity to be within their reach.”
The total value of the Bilka Fund is just under $720,000. It will be a permanent fund with its yearly income used to support students with financial need, with a preference for students from the neighborhoods surrounding the College, from Learning Corridor programs, or members of the Trinity College Boys & Girls Club.
A member of the Class of 1940, Bilka majored in biology and was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa and Pi Gamma Mu honor societies. He had an especially fond memory of an English Department prize that he won at Trinity; he promptly used the prize money to purchase his first microscope.
After graduation from Trinity, Bilka earned his medical degree at Columbia University before serving a residency at Hartford Hospital and a fellowship at the Mayo Clinic. Over four decades, he built a private practice in Minneapolis, specialized in treating fibromyalgia, and was a founding member of the National Society of Clinical Rheumatologists. He also served as a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota and was recognized as a master of the American College of Rheumatology.
Bilka, who was predeceased by his wife Madge (Mussey) Bilka in 1993, was awarded Trinity’s Alumni Medal of Excellence in 2000, the year he and his classmates celebrated their 60th Reunion. On that occasion, he said that he considered himself extremely fortunate to have received the scholarship aid that made it possible for him to attend Trinity.
“Getting to know him was one of the special highlights of my time at Trinity,” said Jones, who will retire June 30 after a decade as president. “Dr. Bilka made a point of expressing enormous gratitude for the scholarship support he received and let us know how privileged he felt to be able to return the gift to future generations.”
The Bilka Fund is one of several endowed funds established by generous Trinity alumni, parents, and friends with a goal of providing scholarship assistance with a preference for students from Hartford. During the 2013-2014 school year, Trinity provided approximately $580,000 in institutional grant assistance to undergraduate students who are Hartford residents.
Trinity College’s investments in Hartford students also include its partnership since 2011 with the Hartford Public Schools in expanding the district’s nationally acclaimed Hartford Magnet Middle School into the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy (HMTCA), an innovative early-college model of public education. Serving students in sixth through 12th grades, HMTCA emphasizes college-preparedness as well as the sciences and the visual and performing arts.