Best Students Find Home at Illinois Wesleyan Thanks to the Smith Fund

Coyner '54 and Donna Smith

November 23, 2009

Giving back is a theme familiar to Coyner and Donna Smith. Coming to Illinois Wesleyan in 1950, Coyner Smith majored in music and joined Phi Mu Alpha, the men’s music fraternity. In his third year at Illinois Wesleyan, the military called and Smith answered the call to serve his country. After his time in the U.S. Navy, Coyner and Donna founded Better Business Equipment in Omaha, Neb. For four decades they built their family business before retiring and handing the reins to their son. The company’s advertisements were especially catchy because Coyner Smith, ever the music major, developed all the music and lyrics himself.

In 2008, the Phi Mu Alpha house was seriously damaged in a fire. Displaced members sent out a cry for help. The Smiths gave a generous gift to refurbish the house and then another one to bring it up to code.

The Smiths are answering the call yet again for the Transforming Lives campaign. The Smiths made an initial pledge of $250,000 to establish an endowed merit scholarship, as well as annually funded scholarships. In addition this year they provided a gift of $150,000 for the School of Music to begin much-needed refurbishing of Presser Hall.

“These gifts will benefit the School of Music, as well as the University in general, both immediately and for years to come, and for this we are deeply grateful,” said Director of the School of Music Mario Pelusi.

Merit scholarships, much like the Smiths’, assist students reaching for new heights. Katie Brokaw, a 2002 graduate and scholarship recipient, was Illinois Wesleyan’s first triple major in English, art and theater. “When I wanted to double major in Art and Theatre, the big research universities told me they’d be happy to have me in either program but not both — it just wasn’t possible. That spring, then-University President Minor Myers said to me, ‘Katie, if you come here you can do anything you want.’ I took him at his word and that’s exactly what I did, helped along by a merit scholarship.”

Brokaw went on to earn a master’s degree at Cambridge University, and recently completed a doctorate program in English at the University of Michigan. She also gives back to Illinois Wesleyan, and serves as the chair for the alumni class of 2002.