By the time the last piece of pastry was eaten and the last strains of live jazz had faded, Elmhurst College’s fourth annual Evening for Scholarships benefit had netted a record $300,000 to fund student scholarships, exceeding last year’s record by $60,000 and strengthening the College’s commitment to keeping an Elmhurst education within reach of all of its students.
Ninety-five percent of the proceeds from the event, held on March 16 in the Frick Center, will go directly to fund student scholarships.
“Our College and local community came together and invested generously in our students,” said Joseph R. Emmick, Elmhurst’s vice president for development and alumni relations. “Our guests helped change students’ lives tonight.”
The evening began with a cocktail reception in the Founders Lounge, vividly lit for the occasion. For the dinner, drapery and soft lighting transformed the cafeteria into a more intimate environment, and CBS 2 News anchor Rob Johnson kept things lively as the master of ceremonies. A live auction, performances by Elmhurst’s Wind Ensemble and Jazz Combo and a celebration of student achievements contributed to the festive atmosphere.
But President S. Alan Ray reminded the attendees of the crucial purpose of the evening: to raise money that will enable many financially stressed Elmhurst students to finish college. In the 2011-12 academic year, 96 percent of Elmhurst students received some form of financial aid.
“There is no greater need on this campus than scholarships,” Ray said to the dinner audience of more than 260. “Your generous support tonight and throughout the year will ensure that not one of these fine students leaves Elmhurst College because he or she cannot afford to attend. Your support makes a visible and a lasting difference in the lives of our young people.”
The live auction, a new feature of the annual scholarship dinner, raised more than $30,000. Led by the animated, rapid-fire delivery of auctioneer Keith Jones of Sayer & Jones, the auction transformed good friends seated at the same table into fierce rivals determined to outbid each other for coveted tickets to Chicago Blackhawks and Bears games, the Chicago Symphony, vacation getaways to Hawaii and Sonoma, California, and other prizes.
Most impressive was the general monetary bids received as a direct result of the Fund-A-Scholarship portion of the auction. The bids raised an additional $40,000 to culminate the evening’s success.
BMO Harris was the presenting sponsor of the Evening for Scholarships. Elmhurst College Trustee Julie W. Curran, regional president of BMO Harris Bank, and her husband, Jeff Curran, chaired the event. Trustee Virginia (Gina) Prochaska ’88 served as co-chair and will chair the 2014 event.
“We are blessed with strong volunteer leadership,” Emmick noted. “Julie and Jeff Curran and co-chair Gina Prochaska provided enthusiastic and strong leadership, and the entire committee worked hard to encourage attendance, secure important sponsorships and in-kind gifts, raise money and secure auction items.”
Several Elmhurst students who currently receive scholarships attended the event, including senior Scottie Williams, a marketing major from Woodridge, Illinois. He spoke during the dinner and thanked donors for their generosity, calling it “an amazing gesture” on their part.
“It takes a special person to help someone become a special person,” Williams said, adding that scholarships have helped him and many of his peers “to achieve our dreams of walking across the stage with our degrees in hand.”
Williams, a record-setting running back for the Elmhurst football team, recently received the Gagliardi Trophy—the Division III equivalent of the Heisman Trophy—for his outstanding performance not only on the football field but also in the classroom and serving the community. In honor of his achievements, the City of Elmhurst proclaimed March 16 Scottie Williams Day.
Alumnus Dan Zarlenga ’10, who spoke at the first Evening for Scholarships while an Elmhurst student, returned to thank those who had invested in his future. Zarlenga started the Global Poverty Club while at Elmhurst, worked for the non-profit organization Opportunity International after graduation, and recently accepted a position in the development office of Northwestern University.
He said that the College has been a constant part of his journey since his graduation. “Elmhurst College has played a significant role every step of the way,” he said. “The faculty and staff at Elmhurst College have changed my life, and that’s not an exaggeration. The relationships I formed with these great people happened for one simple reason: The people of Elmhurst College have cared about my life.
“These magnificent people care about me and every student on this campus. This is not only a rare quality, this is what makes this institution great,” he said. “As a former student, I’m absolutely honored to say that I now am, and always will be, seated beside you as a fellow investor.”