The Illinois scholarship: a badge of distinction
“The Illinois Scholarship was a life-altering miracle,” says Ward S. Curran ’57, the Ward S. Curran Distinguished Professor of Economics. From Springfield, Illinois, Curran was most likely headed to the University of Illinois when a high school guidance counselor suggested Trinity College and the Illinois Scholarship.
Curran admits that his life would have turned out differently had he not received the scholarship that led him to a successful 50-year teaching career at Trinity.
Since 1948, Scholarships for Illinois Residents, Inc. (SIRI) has brought more than 400 exceptionally qualified Illinois students to Trinity College. This spring, the institution will achieve a milestone: giving scholarships, benefits, and other commitments in excess of $10 million.
Last fall, SIRI had its name added to the College’s Wall of Honor, a tribute that “celebrates the institution-building impact the corporation has had on Trinity,” says Christine Nilson Foote, the College’s director of donor relations. The wall is located in the Fuller Arch on the Long Walk, and names of donors are carved into the brownstone slabs there.
“The bulk of the more than 400 Illinois Scholars have, over the years, contributed to the life of this institution,” says Curran. “Some have been, or currently are, on the Board of Trustees. Many have led productive lives in academics, clergy, business, medicine, and law.” Illinois Scholars include Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist George Will ’62, pathologist Steven P. Nuernberger ’67, and judge Patrice Ball-Reed ’80.
Curran was one of 13 Illinois Scholars in his freshman class. He notes that four members of that group—himself included— went on to receive Ph.D.s, and a fifth earned his M.D. “And ours was not an unusual class,” says Curran. “Those classes including Illinois Scholars who preceded and followed us produced their share of Ph.D.s.”
A friend of the College
The Illinois Scholarship program began with a gift from the Walter P. Murphy Foundation. Murphy, a successful industrialist who died in 1942 without heirs, owned the Standard Railway Equipment Company. He was not a graduate of Trinity, nor of any college, but he was a friend of Martin W. Clement, a 1901 Trinity graduate and a trustee of the College from 1930 until 1963. In 1947, Clement, along with Trinity President G. Keith Funston, worked with the foundation to establish an Illinois-based scholarship program to benefit Trinity.
That original gift was $800,000 and, through careful stewardship, the endowment is now greater than $8 million, says Bob Pedemonti ’60, former treasurer and vice president of finance at Trinity. Pedemonti serves as secretary and treasurer of SIRI and, along with Curran, has been responsible for much of the behind-the-scenes work of the corporation over the last few decades. “All this has been done on the growth of the endowment,” says Pedemonti, as SIRI does no fundraising.
Since its inception, the nature of the program has evolved, says Bob Kehoe ’69, a Chicago-based lawyer and president of SIRI’s board. “Our mission has always been to help the College get the best possible students to campus.”
As the College shifted its admissions focus, SIRI adjusted its scholarship program accordingly. In the early days of the program, the emphasis was on affordability, says Kehoe, and the corporation offered grants and loans to enable qualified Illinois students to pay the escalating cost of higher education in the post-war years.