e-Parent Newsletter

The Illinois Wesleyan Parent Fund

Helping families in need for more than 50 years

As director of the Wesleyan Fund for Annual Giving, I raise unrestricted funds that are applied to the area of greatest institutional need. And increasingly the greatest need is student need…financial aid and scholarships, specifically.

The IWU Parent Fund financially supports students who have lost a breadwinning parent to death or permanent disability. These are students who, without this assistance, would have to leave Illinois Wesleyan for financial reasons—a blow that could negatively affect their whole life trajectory.

Humble Beginnings

During an IWU football game in November of 1960, Charles W. Merritt, a father of one of the IWU players in the game, learned that the father of one of his son’s teammates had died suddenly not long before. In an act of generosity and compassion, Charles passed a paper bag around the stadium to collect money to help the family with college costs. So began the IWU Parent Fund.

And while the process of supporting students in need has formalized somewhat (we no longer pass paper bags at football games), the spirit of community surrounding the fund remains the same. At its core, the Parent Fund is simply IWU families helping other IWU families. 

Over the course of the last 50+ years, the Parent Fund has helped more than 300 students stay in school and earn their degrees. Some of the students I’ve worked with have gone on to become doctors, teachers, dentists, engineers and journalists. They are forever grateful and are among the first to pay forward this generosity by becoming donors as graduates.

Difficult Questions

Students who lose a breadwinning parent face difficult questions they and their families weren’t anticipating having to answer. Often the student must decide if he or she can continue with their education—or if they even should. These are very personal decisions and can be affected by a number of factors, including the emotional and/or employment status of a surviving parent or the welfare of younger siblings at home. Many times, the student might feel compelled to leave school to help—and put their personal aspirations on hold. Parent Fund assistance that allows students to stay in school keeps dreams alive and reassures family members that in the midst of an incredibly difficult time, all is not lost.

I’ve been told by many Parent Fund recipients and their families that when they learned about the assistance they would receive to allow the student to stay in school, it solidified for them their choice to attend Illinois Wesleyan. Most recipients speak of IWU as their home away from home—and Parent Fund donors as a second family.

I love the Parent Fund’s ability to help these families in distress answer some of the most important questions they’ll ever have to face. And as someone who works every day to keep a great education accessible to bright and talented students, there is no greater reward than seeing this happen for students in such tragic circumstances. 

Every Gift Matters

As you might expect, the average financial need of a student who loses a breadwinning parent to death or permanent disability exceeds that of the average IWU student. What’s more, we never know how many students in a given year will need these critical funds. Therefore, whether you’re in a position to make a small or large financial commitment, each and every dollar from each and every donor is welcomed and appreciated.

Illinois Wesleyan is a family, and families look out for one another. Some parents of current students give because they appreciate knowing the fund would be there in the event their students needed it. Others give because they want to see exceptional students realize their full potential. Perhaps you’ll give for yet another reason.