At a time when Kelly Boden should have been excited and looking forward, her young life took a serious turn. The special education major from Bolingbrook was beginning her college career at Illinois State University, just as her mother’s life was coming to an end much too soon.

The night before Kelly was to move into Watterson Towers in August 2015 to begin her freshman year, her mother was hospitalized.

“It was the worst,” she said. “This time, even though we were used to her going into the hospital, this was bad.”

Kelly’s mother suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for seven years and had been diagnosed with vasculitis of the brain, a rare disease characterized by inflammation of the blood vessel walls. Kelly didn’t want to leave her mother to come to school.

At 16, Louise Boden had come to America from Ireland to work as an au pair. She was determined that her daughter start the semester.

“She said, ‘I came over here to provide a better life, so you have no choice,’” Kelly recalled. “There was no convincing her otherwise.”

So Kelly obeyed her mother’s wishes and started college. Louise Boden passed away October 30, 2015, at age 53.

Kelly’s hardworking father, Kirk, had taken a lot of time off work to care for his wife and now the family, including Kelly and her two siblings, faced the financial pressures of a threatened foreclosure on their home and mounting medical bills. Amidst overwhelming sadness, Kelly’s fledgling academic career was in jeopardy.

“I met with my advisor, and there was a block on my account,” Kelly said. “I couldn’t register for second semester because we couldn’t afford to pay even though my dad was doing the best he could.”

After financial aid had been applied, a balance remained that had to be paid before she could continue school. Illinois State’s Red and White Scholarship came to her rescue. Without it, Kelly likely would have had to quit school.

“Honestly, the Red and White Scholarship saved me,” Kelly said. “At that point, I thought I’ve done my best, but maybe it’s not meant to be.”

Jana Albrecht, director of Illinois State’s Financial Aid Office, said the Red and White Scholarship was conceived for just the sort of dire circumstances that Kelly found herself in.

“We really rely on it because a lot of times students don’t have any other options,” Albrecht said. “We can help someone who is in such a hardship that they think they’ll have to go home. The students are just so grateful. We love it.”

The Red and White Scholarship fund helps students with serious challenges like Kelly Boden, but its unrestricted nature makes it flexible enough to help students with smaller problems.

“The fund has also covered things like the cost of a mandatory immunization for a student who otherwise could not have returned to school,” said Lora Wey, executive director of Annual Giving at Illinois State. “It personalizes an experience; ISU is about people.”

Wey said there is an overall culture of philanthropy across campus that also extends to registered student organizations. She cited the Association of Residence Halls (ARH), which incorporates giving into its events.

“This spring, ARH hosted an event in Manchester Hall for students,” Wey said. “There was free food and free entertainment, and they raised awareness of the Red and White Scholarship.”

Students who attended, Wey said, took money out of their own pockets to donate to other students who might be in need.

“It’s where a small gift can make such a big impact, especially since many gifts to the Red and White Scholarship are $100 or less,” Wey said. “Everyone can relate to helping a student.”

John Moody can be reached at