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Scholarship honors ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ star

April 24, 2014

A University of Kansas alumnus is so appreciative of his KU education that he has made a $25 million gift commitment to benefit the university.

The donor, who requested to remain anonymous, said he had been thinking for years about establishing estate plans to benefit KU.

He said he appreciated the education he received at KU, where he received scholarship support, and felt it was important to give back.

Of his planned gift, 80 percent will benefit the outreach programs of the KU Alumni Association, and 20 percent will be equally divided between support for alumni scholarships and the Greater KU Fund, which supports the university’s greatest needs. This would be the largest gift ever for the KU Alumni Association.

“This commitment to the Greater KU Fund will help us achieve our bold aspirations for the university by targeting resources to our top priorities, as well as supporting future generations of Jayhawks through student scholarships. This is a truly generous commitment, and one that will have long-lasting benefits,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.

Kevin Corbett, president of the KU Alumni Association, expressed gratitude. “This generous donor takes a very long-term and high-level view of what drives the success of the University of Kansas by making a commitment to further engage and mobilize KU’s greatest strength — its graduates. The storied success of KU has always been dependent on graduates who have been generous, and who have lent their knowledge and talents to improve the value of the KU degree. This gift will ensure that this tradition will continue in the years to come for the university.”

Barbara Eden is an actress and singer. She starred in the popular 1960s television series “I Dream of Jeannie” which ran for five seasons. The show has aired continuously on cable and in syndications for more than four decades. She has starred in 25 feature films, five network TV series and 19 top-rated network made-for-television movies. She has headlined at major hotel resorts and casinos, including Lake Tahoe, Atlantic City and Las Vegas, and she continues to perform for audiences in the U.S. and abroad.

“We were so pleased to welcome Jon and Barbara to campus earlier this year, especially since Barbara was able to visit with our students and share insights from her career. This gift will help generations of KU actors follow in Barbara’s footsteps, and on their behalf, I want to thank her and Jon for this generous gift,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.

Mechele Leon, chair of KU’s Department of Theatre, said the scholarship will be an asset in recruiting and rewarding students who not only demonstrate talent and academic achievements, but also have a proven commitment to a career as a performer. Each year, one full-ride academic year scholarship will be awarded.

During Eden’s Feb. 14 visit to the department, Professor John Staniunas interviewed her onstage about her life and career. The students were attentive and stayed to ask questions about Eden’s career and have photos taken with her.

“There’s no replacement for the inspiration that students get from speaking to a performer of that kind of international and national stature,” said Leon. “The career potential becomes real to them; their aspirations become real.”

The students were particularly interested in Eden’s method of character development, Leon said.

“Barbara talked about how she created Jeannie’s sunny personality. She described Jeannie as being a character who was naïve, and that everything was new and exciting for her,” said Leon. “I think that’s where all that excitement and freshness and happiness came from. Her role was fresh and innocent more than it was magical and sexy.”

The inaugural recipient of the Jon T. Eicholtz and Barbara Eden Acting Scholarship will be announced Friday evening during the department’s annual award presentation ceremony. Students auditioned for the scholarship last week.

The gift counts toward Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, the university’s $1.2 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign. Far Above seeks support to educate future leaders, advance medicine, accelerate discovery and drive economic growth to seize the opportunities of the future.

The campaign is managed by KU Endowment, the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

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April 24, 2014
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