Developing “curious minds”

by Tina Owen,

Estate gifts of $6.8 million will support generations of Willamette students.

  • Jan and Rob DiEllo, President Steve Thorsett, Mike Bennett ’70
    From left: Rob DiEllo, Jan DiEllo ’70, President Stephen E. Thorsett and Mike Bennett ’70

When Jan (Melvin) DiEllo ’70 attended Willamette, she discovered firsthand how a liberal arts degree provides unparalleled career flexibility and a lifelong passion for learning.

After graduating with a French degree, followed by a master’s in French from Middlebury College, DiEllo embarked on a successful 30-year career in management in southern California’s banking industry. Then, at the age of 53, she returned to school to earn a master’s degree in psychology and become a certified life coach.

Having undergone her own career transition, she spent the next five years helping working professionals define, clarify and achieve the goals necessary to take the next step in their personal and professional lives.

DiEllo’s return to the classroom as a “nontraditional” student proved unexpectedly rewarding. “It was so much easier going back because I had all that work and life experience,” she says. “It gave me a different perspective — and it enriched the classroom for all the students.”

In fact, the experience was so positive that DiEllo decided to make similar opportunities available to future Willamette students. This spring, she and her husband, Rob, made a $2.5 million estate commitment to the university by leaving Willamette in their will. The Charlotte J. Melvin DiEllo Scholarship Fund will support College of Liberal Arts students, particularly those whose entrance to college has been delayed because of factors such as employment, training, education, military service, marriage, parenting, divorce or health issues.

The DiEllos’ gift is part of more than $6.8 million in estate commitments that Willamette has received so far in FY 2017 from current and former trustees, retired employees, alumni and friends of the university. Virtually all will eventually support student financial aid by funding the equivalent of 60 scholarships of $5,000 every year into perpetuity.

“Each of these generous estate gifts is a vote of confidence in the future of the university,” says Dave Rigsby ’00, associate vice president for advancement. “While each gift celebrates the donor’s unique experiences at Willamette, the legacy and impact of their gift will not be fully realized until they are gone. Estate gifts are another powerful way that our diverse supporters live our motto, Not unto ourselves alone are we born.”

As longtime supporters of education, Jan and Rob DiEllo wanted to leave a legacy that impacted many lives. They knew that nontraditional students enhance the university community and their own studies through their advanced maturity, clarity of purpose and rich life experiences — yet they often struggle financially in returning to school.

The DiEllos hope their commitment will help make it more viable and affordable for nontraditional students to get a quality liberal arts education later in life.

“A liberal arts education allows you to pursue so many subjects and interests, to stretch yourself, discover your abilities and passions, and open up to new ideas. It really gives you a lot of confidence,” says Jan. “And after you graduate and begin work, you’ll be faced with many challenges. That’s why you need a curious mind.”

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