Memorializing His Sister With an Endowed Professorship

Jim Faust

Jim Faust ‘64 has had a successful career in the cable television industry, with a provider of optical communication systems for the cable market. Years ago, he decided that Blackburn was deserving of financial support because of its mission.

Additionally, supporting Blackburn provided an important way to remember his late sister, Sonja, a 1966 graduate of Blackburn. More recently, he has also given time and expertise to Blackburn, serving as a member of the Board of Trustees.

Jim strongly believes that “Blackburn has a crucial role to play in our culture—especially for students needing financial assistance who are seeking a college degree and trying to gain work and leadership experience. They see Blackburn as their “ticket” to a successful life and career.

“I believe I should give back and do what I can to support the school financially. Blackburn gives students a foundation for later success,” says Jim.

Knowing that Blackburn has several strong major courses of study, Jim focused on Teacher Education because of its strengths, and because Sonja was an education major who went on to teach in northern Illinois before her death from cancer.

Jim recalls: “I learned that education majors are required to come up with money over and above tuition and housing to cover additional fees, like tests and certification fees to complete their teaching certification. Some of those students don’t have the extra cash for that, so I started a fund to cover those fees and to provide for incidental costs for conferences for the education students and their professors.

“A student should not be prevented from going into teaching solely because of lack of finances for additional costs. With the fund that I’ve set up, teacher candidates do not have to worry about that.”

More recently, Jim began looking for other ways to support Blackburn’s teacher education program, spending time consulting with the education faculty and the College’s development staff. He has put together a “blended gift” plan, which combines a major cash donation with an estate plan gift. Additionally, the plan includes donations from family members. Their total support will underwrite the annual cost of a professorship in education—a family gift in memory of Sonja and her work in education.

Jim Faust (right) with his parents and sister Sonya,

Jim arrived at Blackburn without having seen the campus ahead of time and was assigned housing in Butler Hall. His first job assignment was working construction on Ludlum Hall under the watchful eye of Mr. Lemaster.

Jim was attracted to Blackburn because of its affordable cost and by the fact that he could take the train from Chicago to Carlinville at a time when his family did not have a car. Coming from a working-class family in Chicago, he aspired to become an engineer. He attended Lane Technical school—a boys’ school of about 5,500 students—and went on to earn an associate degree from Chicago’s Wilbur Wright College. A brochure that he found highlighted several colleges, and Blackburn was among them.

“I had Dr. Plotnick for Economics, and I liked him a lot,” remembers Jim. “I also had Mrs. Plotnick for French, and she terrified me. Dr. Plotnick was a good mentor, encouraged me in my studies, and talked me into attending the University of Illinois for a master’s degree.”

Jim thought the most important thing about Blackburn was meeting students from all over the country. “Everyone was on a level playing field—most of us didn’t have much cash, so we depended on each other for social activities, campus events, and classroom support.

“I especially liked the intramural athletics program,” recalls Jim. “There weren’t many varsity sports, so intramurals provided a way to continue playing; we had some terrific competitions. I did earn a varsity letter in tennis, and coach Pete Hughes was an important mentor for me. I would like to see more intramurals on today’s campus so that more students can participate–the volume of varsity sports has outpaced the limited facilities.

“As a student, I wasn’t just a number; Blackburn cared about me as a person. For example, I had knee surgery and did my recuperation on campus during spring break. The Work Program managers accommodated my knee injury by moving me from construction to working as a nurse’s aide.

“I’m glad that I am able to do something to help Blackburn maintain its strength in teacher education,” says Jim. “I believe that helping cover students’ extra teacher education costs and then establishing an endowed fund to underwrite the cost of a professor will do much for teacher education at the College. Blackburn helped give me my start, and I am grateful to be able to pay it back this way.”