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From humble roots, Riggs family creates scholarship

Jim and Deb Riggs pose

The J.D.J. Riggs Endowed Scholarship Fund is named for Jim and Deb Riggs.

Jim Riggs ’68, M.B.A. ’80, didn’t plan to go to college. He came from a blue-collar family—his dad an electrician and his brothers factory workers. He didn’t even fill out his own application to Illinois State. His buddy did it for him.

But two degrees and a 42-year career in financial management later, Riggs is sure glad he did. The high school jock and “accidental student” fell in love with learning at Illinois State—and then with his wife, Deb. The direction of his life changed completely because of Illinois State and the College of Business.

“Everything about my life started with ISU,” Jim said. “It was transformational for me.”

Now, the Riggs family is paying it forward for the next generation of ISU students by endowing a new College of Business scholarship. The J.D.J. Riggs Endowed Scholarship Fund is named for Jim and Deb Riggs, along with their daughter, Jessica, who attended ISU’s Metcalf laboratory school. The first scholarship recipient was announced in fall 2014, and a seven-figure planned gift provision in their estate will grow the fund in the future.

The estate provision is one of the largest gifts in the college’s history, and it’s one of several seven-figure gift commitments made to the University in the past year. The Riggses have made smaller gifts to ISU for years, but it wasn’t until one of Jim’s longtime friends returned from an overseas charity trip that they began to think bigger—about their legacy.

“It was an awakening,” he said. “We wanted to do something for students, because of what ISU did for me. So we thought, what about sending one kid to college every year—forever?”

That’s exactly what their endowed scholarship will do. The scholarship will help the College of Business attract and retain its top students, and will support those who otherwise would not have such opportunities because of rising college costs, said Interim Dean Gerry McKean ’72, M.S. ’75, Ph.D. ’85.

“The remarkable gift and commitment from the Riggses will further strengthen the college by providing valuable resources to talented students,” McKean said. “Every gift is appreciated, but it is through the generosity of the Riggs family that we will be able to transform the lives of so many of our students.”

Jim was a first-generation college student himself, back when his education cost less than $4,000. After earning his business education degree from ISU, he returned to get his M.B.A. That helped propel him into a successful career with various manufacturing companies in Illinois and Florida, before retiring in 2008.

Jim also met Deb while pursuing his M.B.A., and their bond with ISU and Redbird Athletics was forged together. They’ve lived in Florida for 30 years, but they still visit Illinois State at least once a year.

“If you ask me where my home is, it’s Illinois—and Illinois State,” Deb said. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve walked around the campus, just for fun.”

The passion for giving back started early for the Riggses. Deb’s father spent 36 years at Caterpillar, much of that time working side jobs during his off-hours. But he still signed up for the employee donation program for local charities—inspiring Deb to do the same at her first job, making $2 an hour.

Together, Jim and Deb pinched pennies and saved money so their own daughter wasn’t bogged down by student loan debt. Now they want to do the same for future ISU students.

Deb says the University’s development staff made it easy to establish the scholarship and document their planned gift. And they learned an important lesson—you don’t have to be super-wealthy to make a difference.

“We were very fortunate, and we’d like to pass that on to other people,” said Deb, who works as a learning manager for a large financial services company.

“We’re going to protect ourselves and protect our daughter. But in the very end, if you don’t need (the money), then why not do good with it?” added Jim.

Their first scholarship recipient is Matt Juskie, a freshman finance major from Frankfort. He met the Riggs family during Homecoming, and expressed his thanks for helping jump-start his college education.

“I would love to be able to pay it forward to another student one day, once I’m in the position to do so,” he said. “Using what I learned in the College of Business, hopefully I can do exactly what the Riggses have done for me.”

ISU President Larry Dietz recognized the Riggses during the Alumni Day Luncheon at Homecoming.

“Endowed scholarships are vital to making an Illinois State education accessible and affordable to students, and the tremendous generosity of the Riggs family significantly advances ISU’s efforts in this important area,” Dietz said. “The J.D.J. Riggs Scholarship will continue to inspire young business minds and impact students for generations to come.”

Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu. Bob Tomaski can be reached at rdtomas@IllinoisState.edu.

 

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