A retired teacher who lived frugally but dreamed big has taught one final, lasting lesson in generosity and loyalty by leaving her entire six-figure estate to her alma mater, Eastern Illinois University.
Mildred Grush Timmons, who died last March at the age of 96, specified that her entire $324,352 fortune be used to create the Mildred Grush Timmons American Regionalists Collection at EIU’s Tarble Arts Center.
“The endowment will have a major and lasting impact upon the Tarble Arts Center and its ability to build upon its American Regionalists Collection, which will enhance Eastern’s well-established reputation as an institution committed to the advancement of the arts,” said James Johnson, dean of the EIU College of Arts and Humanities.
Michael Watts, director of the Tarble Arts Center, had known Timmons for nearly 10 years, and he said her passing and her generous gift have been both personally and professionally significant to him.
The strong relationship between Timmons and the Tarble Arts Center took root in the early 1980s, when Timmons toured the new facility. The visit left a lasting impression on both parties.
In fact, Watts said, many in the EIU community had become very close to Timmons through the years. Her husband had preceded her in death, and they had no children.
“It’s nice to know that in some ways Eastern can kind of serve as an extended family to preserve her legacy,” Watts said. “It really is moving, and it shows her magnanimous quality that, even with her relatively modest background, she would establish this endowment for us.”
The endowment fund will allow the Tarble Arts Center to receive nearly $14,000 annually, starting in the fall of 2007. Timmons also gave the university $9,700 worth of woven rugs and silver jewelry from the Southwest, and they have been added to the Tarble Arts Center’s collection.
“We’re going to use this endowment to build upon the Regionalist artwork we already have,” Watts said. “In time, it will become its own collection.”
The endowment will allow the university and community at large to see, study and become familiar with artists such as Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, John Sloan and John Steuart Curry, Johnson said.
Timmons had a love for EIU and for artwork from this period, particularly Wood’s depictions of Iowa countrysides with cornfields.
“It’s a nice nexus of her interests and our needs coming together so that we’re able to build on an aspect of a collection that was already there,” Watts said.
Timmons, an only child, was born in 1909. After graduating from Mt. Morris High School, she received a two-year certificate from Northern Illinois State Teachers College. She taught in Lombard until 1932, when she enrolled at Eastern Illinois State Teachers College; she graduated with honors with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1934.
Timmons was a teacher throughout her career, working in Robinson and Hinsdale before moving on to teach in California, Colorado and Utah, as well as in American schools in Venezuela, Panama and Colombia. She was also selected as a traveling teacher with the Youth Opportunity Program, affiliated with the Horace Heidt orchestra.
She retired from teaching in 1974, but went on to serve as a volunteer in the gift shop of Holy Cross Hospital and the Multi-State Program for the Blind, both in Salt Lake City.
“She was always willing to share her fond memories of Eastern and her love for teaching and the arts,” Johnson said. “Her gift to the university is a reflection of her caring attitude and commitment to share with others those things, which she believed enhanced our daily lives.”
In 1990, she was inducted into EIU’s Livingston C. Lord Society, for graduates who have celebrated their 50-year class reunion.
That same year, Timmons set up a living trust, which gave her the peace of mind of knowing she had access to the principal as needed, but that ultimately, her entire estate would go to EIU.
“Although she lived on Social Security and a teacher’s pension, she put plans in place to make this dream come to life upon her passing,” said Karla J. Evans, executive director of development at EIU.
Timmons watched her finances closely, worried about “maximizing” the amount that would eventually go to EIU. “She would say, ‘I want Eastern to get every penny,’” Evans said.
The gift helped EIU reach its $10 million “You Are EIU” fund-raising goal earlier this year. The three-year campaign reached its goal about five months early.“It is through planned gifts such as Mildred’s that persons of benevolent intent can make ultimate gifts without the outright means to do so,” Evans said. “Mildred was a teacher in every way. Now she has left a lesson for others to learn.”