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Donor Spotlight: Diane Dahlmann

Left: Sandy Groves, Right: Diane Dahlmann M.S. '77

Sandy Groves and Dianne Dahlmann

Diane Dahlmann, M.S. ’77, first met Dr. Sandy Groves, Illinois State University professor emerita, while interning in Park Ridge in 1973. Dahlmann could not have foreseen the long-lasting impact Groves would have on her career. All she knew was that Groves was a pioneer in the field of recreation, and as the recently hired recreation program coordinator of the Park Ridge Park District, she would become Dahlmann’s new boss.

Now, decades after their first meeting, Dahlmann has committed a generous gift during Redbirds Rising: The Campaign for Illinois State to endow the Sandy Little Groves Scholarship in honor of her mentor and friend. From their first meeting, Groves played an important role in Dahlmann’s life.

“She legitimized the field of recreation for myself and for my parents,” Dahlmann said. “When my parents met her, they realized that a career in the field of recreation could be and was a reality.”

At the time, in the 1970s, Groves was considered a trailblazer as a woman and working mother in the field. Groves proved willing to push the envelope, rejecting what had previously been done in recreation.

Dahlmann and Groves both recalled how Groves transformed the cover of the Park Ridge Park District’s 1974 summer program guide. The once black-and-white book with a beige cover received a colorful makeover under Groves’ creative direction. The newly redesigned cover featured two women in bathing suits awash in orange and pink.

Park Ridge Park District's 1974 summer program guide.

Park Ridge Park District’s 1974 summer program guide.

“It caused quite a scandal,” recalled Dahlmann.

Groves and Dahlmann parted ways after their work together in Park Ridge—Groves to teach in recreation and park administration at Pennsylvania State University, where she later completed a Ph.D., and Dahlmann for graduate work at Illinois State. It was Groves who pushed Dahlmann to continue her studies, and the two kept in touch until their paths crossed again years later in Horton Field House.

“I said, ‘What are you doing here?’” recalled Dahlmann, who had been brought on as Illinois State’s director of campus recreation and golf course in 1985. “It turns out that Sandy was a new faculty member in the parks and recreation administration program.”

Groves would go on to serve in many capacities before retiring after 22 years at Illinois State, including associate dean of the Graduate School; interim associate vice president for Research, Grad Studies, and International Education; and director of Graduate Studies. Groves was also recognized as Outstanding University Teacher of the Year in 1989. Though Dahlmann left Illinois State in 1997 to work as the executive director of MizzouRec Services and Facilities, from which she retired in 2017, she remembers fondly coming to Illinois State as a graduate student in August 1976.

“Coming to Illinois State was a big deal, a life goal,” she said. “My high school instructors had graduated from Illinois State, and its faculty had a reputation that preceded everything. I enjoyed getting to know my professors at the graduate level.”

Once retired, Dahlmann began considering what she calls her “glorious career.” She realized then that the common denominator within her life’s work was Groves.

“I could write Sandy thank-yous every day for all she’s done for me throughout my career, but I thought, ‘Take action,’” Dahlmann said.

With the help of University Advancement staff, Dahlmann crafted the perfect thank you for a lifetime of career success and enjoyment—a visionary gift to support the Sandy Little Groves Scholarship, which provides for promising students enrolled in the recreation management major. The gift lifts up scholarship, a pillar of the Redbirds Rising campaign.

“Giving a scholarship is a seed planter. If you start small, you’ll be amazed at what it can grow into.”—Sandy Groves

Brittany Bender ’19 was the first student to receive the new scholarship. Bender had just taken an unpaid internship, a requirement of her parks and recreation administration major, when she learned that she’d received the scholarship.

“My event planning internship with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville was an amazing experience, but I had to find my own living arrangements and support myself,” Bender said. “Receiving this scholarship felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I would have struggled to get back on my feet after graduation, so I am very thankful for Diane Dahlmann’s support.”

Groves is also grateful for the help she received early on in her career. It’s the reason she also established a scholarship at Illinois State: the Sandra Little Groves Recreation and Park Administration Faculty Development Fund.

“Giving a scholarship is a seed planter,” Groves said. “If you start small, you’ll be amazed at what it can grow into.”

When reflecting on the scholarship created in her name, Groves called it a “true honor.” To Dahlmann, her friend and mentee, Groves said: “Thank you for that honor.”

This gift for scholarships is part of the University’s $150 million comprehensive campaign, Redbirds Rising: The Campaign for Illinois State. The most ambitious campaign in the University’s history, Redbirds Rising supports scholarship, leadership, and innovation. The Redbirds Rising campaign will continue raising funds for the University’s critical priorities through June 30, 2020. Those interested in supporting the campaign can visit RedbirdsRising.IllinoisState.edu for additional information.

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