During their lives Susan Kiley and her father Jerry Kiley impacted countless lives just by being themselves. Through his involvement with the Optimist Club of Oswegoland, Jerry helped thousands of children in the community. But perhaps the greatest contribution the Kileys and the Optimist Club have made comes in the form of the 51 young adults who have been able to attend college thanks to the Susan M. Kiley Memorial Scholarship Fund. In recognition of this great contribution to the college, the cause of education and the community, Waubonsee Community College named the scholarship fund, the Optimist Club, the Kiley family and the Festival of Brass as its Distinguished Contributor for 2010.
Sadly, the fund that has helped improve so many young lives started when one young life was tragically lost. Susan Kiley was killed in a traffic accident in 1989, on the very day she was to register for classes at Waubonsee. Her parents, Jerry and Margie Kiley, did not know where to have the memorials sent until a friend suggested the Optimist Club, of which Jerry was an active member and past president. Once several thousand dollars had been raised, the club suggested using the money to set up a memorial scholarship in Susan’s name.
"This is a big thing to help give young kids a start," said Margie Kiley. "This scholarship has been so important to so many who maybe did not have the finances or didn’t want to leave home to go to school. It’s very rewarding to see how successful they are.""We wanted scholarships for the ‘average’ student who wants to go to college but perhaps otherwise wouldn’t be able to go," said Bill Powell, Optimist member and the secretary/treasurer of the scholarship fund’s board of trustees. "Perhaps it’s a student with average grades but who has a really positive attitude or who has been holding down a part-time job while attending school."
When it was first awarded in 1991, the Susan M. Kiley Memorial Scholarship went to just one graduate of Oswego or Oswego East High School each year, but by 1999, the fund had grown enough for two annual scholarship winners. The next year, three awards were given out, and 2002 saw four scholarship winners, which remains the number today. Winners are awarded $600 per semester for four consecutive semesters, for a total gift of $2,400.
But as with most scholarships, the meaning, for both the recipients and the donors, is larger than sheer numbers can communicate.
"This is a big thing to help give young kids a start," said Margie Kiley, Susan’s mother and Jerry’s widow, who now serves as a scholarship fund trustee. "These kids can stay home and get their basic courses and go on. This scholarship has been so important to so many who maybe did not have the finances or didn’t want to leave home to go to school. It’s very rewarding to see how successful they are."
The success of these students and of the scholarship program is due in large part to the success of Oswego’s Festival of Brass, which has been the project’s main fundraiser for the past 20 years. Each year, nearly 1,000 young people from across the country perform at Oswego High School at this drum and bugle corps show, which draws a huge audience from Oswego and surrounding areas.
"The Optimists are for the youth, so this is a good project for them," said Margie Kiley. "And if it weren’t for the Optimists, the scholarship fund and this event wouldn’t fly. They are the working force behind the Festival of Brass."
The 2010 Festival of Brass honored the man who was the main working force behind the Susan M. Kiley Memorial Scholarship Fund since its inception, Susan’s father and Margie’s husband, Jerry Kiley, who passed away in February of this year. Jerry had been an active member of the Optimist Club of Oswegoland for 27 years and headed up the scholarship fund’s board of trustees from the beginning.
Waubonsee President Dr. Christine Sobek was on hand at the festival to present a plaque to Margie and the rest of the Kiley family. Addressing Margie that night, Sobek said, "It is with sincere appreciation for Jerry’s dedication to the Oswego community and its thousands of young people that I am very proud to present this recognition to you tonight, and to thank you and your family for sharing Jerry, and his many talents, with all of us during our lifetime."
Of that honor and on being named Distinguished Contributor, Margie said, "My husband would be thrilled with this honor. He spent many hours at the computer, crunching numbers, working on the scholarship."
Powell, who was also Jerry’s best friend, echoed the sentiment. "This scholarship has meant an awful lot to the Kiley family,” Powell said. “It was something that Jerry was really proud of and spent a lot of hours on. He was so dedicated to keeping it going."