Sharon Litchfield never thought she’d be swabbing a saucepan to check for traces of cocaine and methadone. Or be investigating art forgery.

But the former special education teacher had the chance to play chemist during the Heritage Society’s first Lunch and Learn event that recently drew about 40 donors and their guests back to Illinois State University’s campus. They could choose between field testing controlled substances in a chemistry lab or playing guest chefs in the Foods Lab, taste-testing black bean brownies.

“These experiences allowed our donors to learn something new while engaging with our faculty and students,” said Jillian Young, Illinois State’s director of stewardship and donor relations. “It enabled them to engage and connect with the people and programs their philanthropy supports.”

Sharon Litchfield ’73 and her spouse, Al Litchfield ’72, met at Illinois State and are members of the Heritage Society, honoring those who have included the University in their estate planning. They created the Sharon and Allen Litchfield Endowment for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Sequence in the Department of Special Education. Sharon Litchfield taught in the program and remembers how hard it was to find funding for faculty and student enrichment programs.

Donors cook inside Foods Lab

Heritage Society members also visited the new Foods Lab in Turner Hall.

“I loved the department,” she said. “But it wasn’t easy to find the money for extras. We are giving to an enrichment fund, which will be used to bring speakers to campus and allow faculty and students to go to conferences.”

President Larry Dietz spoke to the group at a luncheon before the lab sessions.

“You have a special role here,” he said. “Every person in this room is a vital partner in all our efforts to help change lives, through scholarships, facility enhancements, recruitment and retention of faculty, and enhanced programming.”

Agnes Kowalski speaks to donors

Agnes Kowalski, a junior in international business and finance, speaks to Heritage Society members at the Lunch and Learn event.

Agnes Kowalski, a junior in international business and finance whose life was changed by a Heritage Society donor, spoke to the group. The daughter of Polish immigrants received the Charles Norman Dean’s Scholarship, created by alum Charlie Norman in 2009. He endowed the scholarship in his estate plan and died unexpectedly in 2014. The fund serves as a tribute to his 25-year career and commitment to serving others, Dietz said.

Growing up, Kowalski wanted to be a paleontologist, a chef and a pilot but in high school, “I had settled on simply wanting to be successful,” she said. “I didn’t have time to work out the details on how I was actually going to do that. But now, I have a much different answer. When I grow up, I want to be like the people in this room. I would not be standing here without the support of people like you.”

Kate Arthur can be reached at