Elaine Hess ’56 contributed to two Illinois State University scholarship funds – the Benjamin J. Keeley and John A. Kinneman Scholarships – because Professors Keeley and Kinneman were instrumental in her academic career.
Benjamin Keeley taught sociology courses, and John Kinneman was the chair of the Social Sciences department. These two professors helped her to succeed in social sciences education as well as outside the classroom.
“The reason I attended Illinois State (Normal) University was simple – it was the only school I could afford,” said Hess. “I had absolutely no family help with my expenses. During my first year, I served meals and washed dishes at a boarding house and received my meals in exchange.” She lived in a rooming house on School Street, where a parking lot is now located.
Because Hess knows firsthand how hard it is to get through school with no financial help, like many students still do today, she decided to make a large contribution to the scholarships. Hess said that 50 years ago public financial aid did not exist, and privately supported scholarships were few and far between. However, she did receive a tuition waiver that required her to pursue a degree in teaching at any of Illinois’ state teachers’ colleges.
Hess was not particularly interested in teaching, but was eager to further her education. After working for a year serving meals and cleaning houses, Kinneman recommended Hess for a job at the campus book store. She worked 15-20 hours each week, but also took a large classload, enabling her to graduate in just three years and two summer sessions.
Following her graduation, Hess applied to graduate school. “I applied for admission and graduate assistantships in sociology at two universities: Northwestern University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln” she said. “It was no mistake that I chose these two. Dr. Kinneman had received his Ph.D. from Northwestern, and Dr. Keeley, Nebraska.” Hess chose Nebraska due to the lower cost of attendance.
After a year Hess yearned for “a real job” and was tired of living like a student. She took a job teaching sociology and psychology at Champaign Senior High. Because Hess was never really interested in teaching, she did not think that she would like her job, but did indeed enjoy her years at Champaign Senior High. She returned to Nebraska and graduate school after four years. Hess took a position at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1965. Along with teaching, she worked on her doctorate part-time.
Hess spent her entire professional career at University of Nebraska at Omaha aside from two years when she returned to Lincoln to finish her Ph.D.
“In the 1970s, higher education institutions were under pressure to promote and hire women faculty,” Hess said. “There was a concerted effort to ensure that women were represented on governance committees.” She had always been interested in campus governance and volunteered for many committees. Hess became one of the more visible female faculty members and was asked to attend an administrative training seminar at the University of Michigan. She was named Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1973, and continued in this role for most of her academic career. She spent her last few years at Omaha teaching and serving in other administrative positions.
Hess is aware of the difficulty that comes with paying for college. Despite this difficulty, she was able to graduate, receive her Ph.D. and live a good life. Hess retired to Tucson, Ariz., in 1994 but, being a midwesterner at heart, she returned to Omaha three years later. In Omaha, she continues to be an active volunteer for the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She hopes her contributions to the Illinois State scholarships will aid students in completing their education and continuing on to have a successful career just as she did.
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