Harold and Lois Joseph's decision to leave their estate to Eastern Illinois University was based primarily on their love for a woman who graduated from the institution more than a century ago.
Charleston resident Mary Coon Cottingham attended the opening of what was then Eastern Illinois State Normal School in 1899. A few years later, she began attending the teacher's college, graduating in 1904.
Thirty-two years later, in 1936, Lois Cottingham -- Mary's daughter -- also graduated from her mother's alma mater.
Both women shared a fondness for writing. Although Lois was a math major, in training to teach, she worked on the staff of the student newspaper -- the Eastern State News -- where (according to the school's yearbook) "her services (were) outstanding."
Mary considered writing "a sign of an educated person," and was particularly fond of creative writing.
Following her own graduation, Lois Cottingham began teaching math to the enlisted men at Scott Air Force Base in Belleville. It was there that she met Harold Joseph, a communications officer and her soon-to-be-husband.
And Mary gained a son.
"(Harold) loved Lois' mom," said Vaughn Jaenike, EIU consultant in philanthropy. "He told me that he had lost his own mother at an early age, and that he thought (Mary) was as close to (him) as she was to Lois."
Upon his retirement from the U.S. Air Force, Harold accepted a position as part of the research team in the Linear Accelerator Lab at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. The couple never had children. They did, however, travel extensively, thanks (in part) to Ten Inc.
Although Harold had not attended Eastern, he was given honorary membership into Ten Inc., an informal social group comprised of EIU alums and their wives. Group members, brought together through their participation in organizations available on campus in the 1930s, initially remained connected primarily through a round-robin letter. But by the late 1970s, the group had begun having reunions in various parts of the United States and abroad.
Together, the Josephs held Eastern dear to their hearts, as had Mrs. Cottingham. Therefore, it was no surprise when the couple thought of the university -- and their mother -- in the later years of their lives.
It was their decision to create the Mary Coon Cottingham Scholarship, to provide scholarships to Eastern students who demonstrate an interest in English literature and creative writing. In addition, funds were designated for the support of the Mary Coon Cottingham Visiting Writers and Scholars Series, which will bring writers and scholars to the EIU campus to talk with students who share an interest in creative writing and literature.
In order to fund these projects, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph established a $600,000 charitable gift annuity, which allowed the couple to turn over a portion of their assets to the EIU Foundation, yet continue to live on quarterly annuity payments over the course of their lives. When Mr. Joseph died in April 2005, Mrs. Joseph continued to live comfortably on those funds until her own death in March of this year.
Both the scholarship and the writers/scholars series, which will get underway during the 2008-2009 academic year, will receive additional financial support through Mr. and Mrs. Joseph's decision to remember Eastern in their estate.
The estate gift, combined with the charitable gift annuity, is expected to total in excess of $1 million.
Officials expect that the first distribution of scholarship awards from the Mary Coon Cottingham Scholarship will take place in Fall 2008. Recipients of the scholarship must be full-time undergraduate students in Eastern's College of Arts and Humanities, must have an overall grade point average of at least 2.0, must display a need for financial aid, and must have a strong interest and talent in English literature and creative writing. Those interested in being considered for this scholarship should contact the English department at 217-581-2428.