Paul and Sandra Harmon endow funds to support diversity and the arts
Redbirds Rising campaign volunteers Sandra M.A. ’70, D.A. ’90 and Paul Harmon have been longtime supporters of Illinois State University through their careers and philanthropy. The couple increased their commitment to Illinois State by contributing outright and planned gifts to fund the Paul and Sandra Harmon Shakespeare Endowment and the Harmon Recruitment Scholarship in history. The couple’s over $400,000 in lifetime giving qualifies them to be recognized among Illinois State’s most distinguished donors in the 1857 and Heritage Societies.
The Harmons knew they wanted to live and work in a mid-sized college town. When Paul Harmon was offered a position in the office of general counsel for the Illinois Agricultural Association in 1968, the couple embraced the Bloomington-Normal community. Since then, the Harmons have become champions for the community they came to love. Paul Harmon enjoyed a 39-year career in the general counsel’s office for the Illinois Agricultural Association and COUNTRY Financial, the last eleven years as general counsel. Sandra Harmon received her Master of Arts and Doctor of Arts degrees in history from Illinois State University and served as an instructional assistant professor in the Department of History from 1972–2003.
During his career, Paul Harmon served on the Normal Town Council for nine years, and then as mayor of the Town of Normal from 1985–1993. In both roles, he worked to strengthen the relationship between Normal and the University. In 1985, Normal established the Town/ISU Student Liaison Committee to allow for increased student interaction with Normal. As mayor, he was involved in distributing grants from the Fell Trust, a bequest from the daughters of ISU founder Jesse Fell.
Sandra Harmon took on additional responsibilities with Illinois State, serving as interim assistant to the president for Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity and director of the Affirmative Action Office. Beginning in 1997, she was an assistant director and academic advisor for the Women’s Studies program, where she served three times as interim director.
The couple’s dynamic careers informed their desire to see increased diversity and representation in the history profession. Both undergraduate history majors, the Harmons established the Harmon Recruitment Scholarship to attract and retain outstanding students from underrepresented groups to the History Department.
Sandra Harmon said the idea for a scholarship to promote diversity in the History Department came from former Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education Jonathan Rosenthal.
“The scholarship is meant to be a recruitment tool, and as such, challenges Admissions to seek out incoming freshman who qualify,” she said.
Once awarded the Harmon Recruitment Scholarship, students can reapply to receive the aid in subsequent years.
“It’s been a joy meeting our scholarships recipients,” Sandra Harmon said. “We want to do what we can to help bring new perspectives to the history profession.”
The couple’s other endowment, the Paul and Sandra Harmon Shakespeare Endowment, speaks to their love of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. The Harmons’ $250,000 endowment will provide operational support for the Festival, which is now celebrating its 42nd year.
“We’ve only missed one show in its entire history,” Paul Harmon said. “We value the opportunities, like the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, that living near ISU affords us. We want to help maintain the professionalism of the Festival for years to come.”
The Harmons have served on the Shakespeare Society Board—Sandra Harmon for 22 years, 14 years as secretary, and Paul Harmon for five.
Since retiring, that Harmons remain active in the community through boards and committees. Paul Harmon was integral to the Bone Student Center Renovation project through his 2008 and 2009 committee involvement. Sandra Harmon served as president of the Friends of the Arts Board from 2003–2006. Both were engaged in raising funds for the Theatre at Ewing, home of the Shakespeare Festival, and now serve as Redbirds Rising campaign volunteers representing the College of Fine Arts.
“I hear stories from Illinois State students who have loved their time on campus and have decided to stay in Bloomington-Normal as a result,” Sandra Harmon said. “That’s my hope for all students. That they have a positive experience at Illinois State and recognize the many wonderful opportunities that Bloomington-Normal has to offer.”
Redbirds Rising: The Campaign for Illinois State recently surpassed its $150 million goal, but we remain committed to enhancing scholarship, leadership, and innovation on campus. Support from donors like the Harmons gives Illinois State a competitive edge and creates a margin of excellence that provides for generations of future Redbirds. To make your mark at Illinois State by giving a gift to an area you value, visit RedbirdsRising.IllinoisState.edu.