When Lou Hencken announced his intention to retire as Eastern Illinois University's 10th president, Tim and Vickie Burke suddenly had the answer to a question that had been puzzling them for years.
While the Evanston, Ill., couple had regularly contributed to their alma mater's annual fund, they were also interested in making a more lasting gift. The question arose, however, as to where that money would go.
As the news filtered out that Hencken would retire after more than 40 years of service at Eastern, the Burkes realized their question had been resolved. They would donate $100,000 as seed money to establish a scholarship in honor of their long-time friend and mentor.
"And with him planning to retire, it was the perfect time to do it," Tim said.
When the couple personally announced their intentions to Hencken, "there was a look of amazement on his face," Tim said. "He was really honored that we thought that much of him."
The Burkes soon put Hencken on the spot, however.
"We told him we'd establish the scholarship in his name and provide the seed money. But then we threw it back into his court," Vickie said. "We wanted him to tell us what name he wanted to give the scholarship, what kind of scholarship it would be and how it would work. We were starting it; now it was in his hands."
At least one of those decisions was an easy one.
Hencken has served Eastern for more than four decades, and the vast majority of those years have been spent focused on student housing. He began his career in student affairs as a graduate assistant, then advanced through the housing ranks as a counselor and both assistant and associate director prior to being selected as director in 1975. In 1989, he was named associate vice president for student affairs, responsible for four major student affairs areas - housing included. He was named vice president for student affairs in 1992.
"It seemed to be a relatively easy decision, given Lou's connection to housing," Tim said, adding that the decision was made to establish the Louis V. Hencken Housing Service Scholarship, to be made available to sophomores/junior/seniors/graduate students who remain in university housing.
The pronouncement seemed particularly appropriate given the Burkes' history with Hencken. Tim was a freshman in 1967 when he first met Hencken, a Douglas Hall residence hall counselor. Two years later, when 18-year-old Vickie (then Vickie Krupp) from the Belleville area moved in to Eastern's Douglas Hall, Hencken (also a Belleville native) scored extra points with her protective father with his hometown connection.
Tim and Vickie both became RAs in the residence halls, with Tim serving under Hencken's direction in Stevenson. Tim became a graduate assistant in the residence halls, and eventually became a residence hall counselor in Taylor and Douglas.
The three became and remained friends over the years, keeping in touch "at varying degrees," Tim said. As a Mattoon, Ill., native, Tim would frequently bring his young wife and, later, growing family, back to Coles County for visits - events that often included side trips back to their alma mater.
News of Hencken's appointment as Eastern's president left the Burkes "thrilled."
"There's nobody who deserved it or who would have been better for Eastern than Lou," Tim said. "As much as he loves the university, he loves the kids at the university even more."
In addition to donating the scholarship's seed money, the Burkes also agreed to serve as co-chairs of the effort to endow the scholarship. The couple would like to see a total endowment capable of producing 20 $2,500 scholarships annually for housing.
"That would offer a nice little package of scholarships," Vickie said.
The Burkes' initial efforts will focus on efforts to contact EIU residence hall assistants, especially those from the mid- to late-sixties and early- to mid-seventies who might have a connection with the couple, as well as Hencken.
"We'll start with that group and send out a letter - put it out as a challenge to others to see what we can raise," Tim said.
For additional information on the scholarship and/or to make a gift, interested persons should contact the EIU Office of Development at 217-581-3313 or 1-866-581-3313.