Willie Brown ’73 was dropping spoonfuls of batter on a grill when the owner of the Pancake House suggested he take a few college classes because the business might be sold.
With that encouragement from Louie Striegel, he signed up for six hours at Illinois State University, which turned into 12 hours, which turned into a degree in business administration. That launched a 38-year career that ended with Brown’s retirement as State Farm Insurance Companies executive vice president and member of the Chairman’s Council.
And now he intends to pay it forward.
“Somebody believed in me,” he said. “I had a lot of help along the way.”
Brown recently established the Willie Brown Endowed Scholarship Fund, which will provide support for an African-American student or any nontraditional student majoring in business.
“My intent is to be able to offer some help when a little help is needed,” he said. “There are plenty of people going to school just like I did who are working but finding time to take four hours here or six hours there because they have a dream. I want this scholarship to be able to help them. I hope that it makes a difference in some individual’s life the way education has made a difference in my life.”
Brown has stayed connected to Illinois State through his leadership on the College of Business and College of Arts and Sciences advisory boards. He also stops in classrooms to talk to students, and has provided countless mentoring experiences.
“ISU has been so good to me,” he said. “It’s been the cornerstone for my success. I have an opportunity to give back right here in my hometown and be involved with the University, and it’s just a natural fit for me. The beautiful thing about it is sometimes you don’t even know who you’ve helped, but you know that somewhere along the line maybe you gave someone a helping hand that made all the difference.”