NIU Foundation Honors Award Recipients
Award for Lifetime Philanthropy: Carla Montgomery
Carla Montgomery knew all along that her destiny was in the classroom. “I was always inclined in that direction,” she says. “When we played school as kids, I was always the teacher.”
As a professor of geology since 1978, Montgomery has made a difference for generations of students at NIU. Her classroom is known as one of personal examples, topical humor, and striking visuals. In 2007, she earned the Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award. Among her many publications are Environmental Geology, now in its tenth edition, and Physical Geology, a textbook so fascinating to a student at Brooklyn College in New York City that it inspired her off-Broadway play.
This year, Montgomery will be celebrated for yet another way she’s made a difference for NIU students: her lifelong philanthropy.
“The Lifetime Philanthropy Award at Northern recognizes significant and sustained giving over a period of time, and Carla Montgomery is an ideal example of that pattern,” says Michael Malone, president of the NIU Foundation. “She has been a donor for 27 consecutive years, and her impact is seen in every area of the university.”
Montgomery says her guiding principle as a philanthropist has been to seek out projects that “speak to her.” Often, these projects relate to her life experiences. Realizing the need for support of graduate students’ research and artistry, she endowed the Graduate Deans’ Fund to provide students opportunities to present their research at conferences. A former geology student, she understands the value of field experience and created a fund to help send geology students to field camp. To date, she has helped send 17 students to geological dig sites across the globe.
An avid reader, Montgomery celebrated the NIU Libraries’ acquisition of its 2-millionth volume by creating an endowment to provide new acquisitions for generations to come. Having served as accompanist for her high school choruses, she purchased two beautiful pianos for the music department. She has also sponsored graduate assistantships, supported the women’s golf program, and made generous contributions to several existing funds at Northern.
In 2011, the NIU Alumni Association presented Montgomery with the F. R. Geigle Service Award in honor of her outstanding service and commitment to NIU. “There’s a whole new generation of young women who would benefit from knowing someone like Carla,” says Teri Gensler, director of development for NIU. “She is smart, funny, caring, and warm and wants to see the next generation—and the generation after that—succeed.”
Award for High Impact Philanthropy: William Doyle
Unbeknownst to his friends and neighbors, quiet and humble NIU alumnus William Francis Doyle was the mild-mannered millionaire next door. And he left it all to NIU.
Shortly after graduating with a business administration degree from the Department of Business Education in 1959, Doyle began working as a computer analyst for Amoco, where he enjoyed a quiet, stable, and successful career.
The path to his NIU legacy began about three years before he died, when Doyle, who never married and did not have children, received a Cornerstone newsletter from the NIU Foundation. As he began making arrangements with his estate, he showed the newsletter to his financial advisers. One of them contacted John Sentovich, NIU’s director of gift planning. In his visits with Doyle, Sentovich was struck by Doyle’s simple lifestyle and meticulous attention to his coin collection.
That hobby paid off for future students: Those hundreds of coins reaped about $360,000, roughly one-third of Doyle’s estate. The university is gratefully applying Doyle’s gift—about $1.1 million—to two university priorities: $625,000 to establish a professorship in the Department of Accountancy and $500,000 toward a university-wide scholarship endowment.
Michael Malone, president of the NIU Foundation, was struck by the fact that Doyle had often told Sentovich that the gift was “no big deal.” “That’s the type of person Bill was—humble, unassuming, not wanting to draw attention to himself,”
Malone observes. “But the truth of the matter is that his generosity is a very big deal.”
Award for High Impact Philanthropy: Howard and Evelyn Lanan
For 62 years, Howard and Evelyn Lanan carved out a good life on their farm in Kingston, Illinois. They did not have children, so they sowed extensively in the lives of their community. Along the way, they created warm memories for their extended family, which came to include the exchange students they hosted from all over the world.
After the Lanans’ deaths in recent years, another chapter began: a legacy of support to NIU, Evelyn’s alma mater. In their will, the Lanans gave NIU an unrestricted gift of almost $2 million that will create the Howard and Evelyn Lanan Endowment for Excellence. The Lanans created their NIU legacy with the intention of allowing the NIU president to designate the gift toward the university’s highest priority each year. That priority is providing engaged learning opportunities.
“A $2 million endowment pays out almost $80,000 a year,” says John Sentovich, director of gift planning at NIU. “The Lanans’ gift could provide hundreds of deserving students each year the opportunity to achieve their dreams.”
Evelyn’s ties to NIU began in 1931, when she enrolled in what was then known as Northern Illinois State Teachers College. She received a teaching diploma in 1933 and was a schoolteacher for the next six years.
Ron Elliott, whose father was a few years younger than Evelyn, described his aunt and uncle as caring leaders in the farming community. “They were proud of their farm and their home,” he says. “They relished their involvement in agriculture and in rural America, and they liked learning about other cultures.”
The Lanans spent their final years at a pair of retirement homes in DeKalb. Howard was 94 when he died; Evelyn was 97.
Their generous gift promises to extend their impact to generations of students.
Award for Volunteer Service: Jeff Eckmann
Accountancy graduate Jeff Eckmann says he came to NIU to become a football star. At 6’ 3” and 230 pounds, he had every reason to believe that he’d find success on the field. Yet, as impressive as his football stats were, it didn’t take long for him to set even greater records in the classroom.
Legendary accountancy professor Don Kieso has evidence of Eckmann’s classroom stats in a gradebook he’s kept since 1973. In it, there’s an entry for an exam with a “100” next to Eckmann’s name. “I had to grade that exam twice to make sure I didn’t make a mistake,” laughs Kieso. “That test was supposed to be hard,” he adds. “I never imagined this big, quiet football player who sat in the back of the classroom would be the one to ace an exam like that.”
After he graduated in 1974, Eckmann took that record of success into the business world. Starting as an audit manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers, he climbed the corporate ladder, holding vice president and chief financial officer positions at several Fortune 100 companies. He retired as executive vice president of strategy, integration, IT, and business development for Reynolds American Inc.
Eckmann shares his success with his alma mater as a generous donor and volunteer. He has served on the NIU Foundation Board of Directors as treasurer and chair of the finance committee for a total of seven years.
“Jeff is on top of it all,” adds Michael Malone, president of the NIU Foundation. “He is everything you could ever ask for in a finance committee chair,” he adds. “I understand how he was successful as a CFO at Fortune 100 corporations, because it’s clear he has an immense capacity to synthesize a tremendous amount of data and clearly present it. He does that extremely well for our finance committee, our board, and our donors.”
Under Eckmann’s leadership, the finance committee has scored some big wins for NIU students. In fact, this past year, its management of the NIU Foundation endowment portfolio led to a higher rate of return than Harvard University’s did.