In a room full of tales of the importance of scholarships, Alan Baharlou’s personal story of how a scholarship changed his life stood out, as he spoke from the perspective of a donor and a recipient.
Baharlou was among the speakers at Eastern Illinois University’s annual Endowment Tea, which brought together donors and recipients of scholarship and program funds to celebrate their impact.
Baharlou told his emotional tale of how a scholarship allowed him to leave his native Iran and start a new life in the United States, and how his success here allowed him to eventually start a scholarship fund for others.
In his native Iran, students were told “where to go, what to eat, what to listen to, what career path to choose.”
“In the morning, I walked to school not knowing if I’d be back or be arrested and never see my family again,” Baharlou said.
Baharlou’s only hope for escaping such a life was to do well enough academically to earn a scholarship to study in the United States. In 1960, he received that funding and made the move.
Baharlou retired last year after serving EIU for 25 years, most recently as chair of EIU’s geology/geography department. Upon his retirement, he and his wife, Carlene, established the Baharlou Distinguished Service Award.
“Here I am, one of the luckiest people in the world, with a wonderful, rewarding career and family life and outstanding friends, all due to the generosity of a benefactor who created the scholarship,” Baharlou said.
Scholarships’ have far-reaching impacts, in both tangible and intangible forms, Baharlou said. “You have lighted a torch that will burn for an entire life,” Baharlou told fellow donors.
The “bonus” for those who create funds is that their names will be “etched in memories” for years to come, Baharlou said.
“Our children and grandchildren will remember there was once a visionary,” Baharlou said. “That is the greatest gift and the most noble legacy to leave behind.”
Speaking on behalf of scholarship recipients was Stephanie Johnson, who received the Thornburgh Journalism Scholar Award. The fund was established by Daniel and Adrianne Thornburgh of Charleston to benefit full-time African-American journalism students at EIU.
Johnson, the 2005 EIU Homecoming queen, is editor of The Daily Eastern News’ Minority Today. She plans to graduate in May with a journalism degree and go on to serve an internship at Ebony magazine.
Johnson thanked the Thornburghs for their gift. “I promise that I will make you very proud,” Johnson said.
Scholarship donors were represented by Don and Pam Sundheim of Charleston, who established the Don and Pam Sundheim Study Abroad Scholarship after retiring last year.
Don taught French at EIU for 37 years; Pam Sundheim, who earned her master’s degree in education from EIU, taught foreign languages at Mattoon High School and taught foreign language methodology at EIU for 18 years, in addition to teaching one year in EIU’s Department of Secondary Education.
The couple met while on a study-abroad trip in Paris 40 years ago this year, and they are passionate about other students having the opportunity to have their own study-abroad experiences.
“We wanted to leave something of ourselves behind, something that was useful that would fill a need,” Don Sundheim said.
EIU President Lou Hencken thanked all of the donors for their generosity.
“Tuition continues to increase, and the gifts that you have given have made a positive difference in the lives of students,” Hencken said.
Other speakers included Jill Nilsen, EIU vice president for external relations; and Steve Childers, a 1977 EIU graduate who is now chief financial officer of Consolidated Communications and president of the EIU Foundation.
“Personal philanthropy is about relationships and people, not just dollars and cents,” Nilsen said.For more information about scholarship and fund endowments, please contact the EIU Office of Development at 581-3313.