Donors share their motivations for giving to SPH scholarships
Whether it’s honoring a dedicated educator, “paying it forward,” or simply supporting a longtime interest, donors to the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health (SPH) have many reasons for giving to student scholarships.
And in the last fiscal year, SPH Dean John R. Finnegan Jr., Ph.D., has been especially impressed by the outpouring of philanthropic support.
“It was one of the best years the school has ever experienced,” Finnegan says. “Donors have stepped forward in major ways, contributing more than $1.1 million for student scholarships. Many of these scholarships receive matching support from the University—a huge plus for the school.”
Here, a few donors share the reasons they’ve contributed to student scholarships in public health.
Returning the favor
More than 50 years after Peggie Toomey Notarianni graduated from the University’s dental hygiene program, she and her husband, Aldo Notarianni, became reconnected with Peggie’s alma mater.
The Notariannis learned about the work Traci Toomey, Ph.D., was doing in the Community Health Education (CHE) program in the Division of Epidemiology. Toomey, well known for her research on alcohol use, is the daughter of one of Peggie’s cousins.
“I like the idea of getting out in the community and promoting healthful behavior,” Peggie says. “Because I was a dental hygienist, it rang a bell with me. It’s a need I see in our society.”
After learning more about the CHE program, the Notariannis decided to make a $50,000 bequest gift to establish the Aldo G. and Peggie Toomey Notarianni Scholarship in support of CHE students.
“Aldo and I were so blessed in our early lives,” says Peggie, noting that her husband and the couple’s four children received college scholarships. “Now it is payback time for all that has been given to our family by earlier benefactors.”
Reducing financial barriers to education
Ever since his medical school days at the University in the 1940s, John R. Pfrommer, M.D., M.P.H., has believed that public health just makes sense. So a few years after he finished his medical training—he specialized in preventive medicine—Pfrommer also obtained a master of public health degree.
Pfrommer feels fortunate that the government paid for all of his education through the U.S. Army and Air Force. Today, he wants to give other students opportunities like the ones he had by supporting scholarships at the School of Public Health.
“I feel very strongly that anyone who has the ability and is willing to work hard, has the right to be educated,” Pfrommer says.
In the past six years, he has established three SPH scholarship funds totaling $170,000: the Dr. John Pfrommer Scholarship, the James Pfrommer Memorial Scholarship, and the Heidi Pfrommer Benson Scholarship. So far, 12 students have benefited from these scholarships, which Pfrommer contributes to annually.
Honoring a beloved educator
Robert Veninga, Ph.D., arrived at the School of Public Health as an instructor in 1969 and stayed for the next 37 years. Though he held several high-level positions, he always remained an advocate for students.
To celebrate Veninga’s career and retirement, former students and colleagues are contributing to a scholarship fund honoring him and his wife, Karen, a 1976 M.P.H. alumna of the school.
SPH alumna Janet Porter (Ph.D., Class of 1993) and her husband, James O’Sullivan, have led the charge by donating $20,000 to establish the Robert and Karen Veninga Scholarship Fund, which will support international students pursuing M.P.H. degrees. The Veningas soon followed with their own contribution.
“I am thrilled that this scholarship will be given to international students—many of whom would never be able to attend the University of Minnesota without scholarship assistance,” says Robert Veninga.
Since the fund was established a year ago, more than 80 people have contributed a total of $45,000.
“These gifts pay tribute to Bob and Karen and their lifelong commitment to the University and the school,” says Porter. “We wanted to recognize the impact they have had on so many lives.