Kole Damkoehler was only 8 years old when he participated in acts of kindness that would change his life. He and his family helped an elderly woman with day-to-day activities, like getting her groceries, cleaning her home, and caring for her. From those experiences, he began to recognize the importance of serving his community.
“I realized how I use my time can impact people. I saw how joyful she was. I saw a perspective where I can use my time to bring joy to others and it would bring joy to me,” Damkoehler said.
Throughout his life, Damkoehler said his family has been his greatest influence, and he appreciates his grandparents and parents for fostering a mindset of always giving back.
“Grandma Dee served as the librarian at Thomas Metcalf Library. She was so impactful beyond the classroom. She’s the person behind the scenes and doesn’t take credit for it,” he said. “My family fostered that mindset for me—to not look at my time as my own and using it to help other people.”
Commitment to this passion for serving others is what helped Damkoehler receive Illinois State University’s McLean County Full Tuition Scholarship, which grants free tuition to students who have a record of leadership, service, and dedication to serving the community.
The Bloomington-Normal native was home-schooled until he started high school at Cornerstone Christian Academy, where he participated in five sports and in several community service opportunities. He volunteers at nursing homes and food pantries, through his church, and for clothing drives in the Bloomington area.
“I was doing community service for as long as I can remember. Especially because my dad is a pastor of a church, that opportunity has always been there for me and my family. It’s been a big part of their lives and it’s transferred down to me, so I’ve grown up doing it with my family and in Bloomington,” he said.
Despite his busy schedule, Damkoehler also found time to lead the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at high school and youth ministry at Journey Church.
“When I started at Cornerstone, I noticed a lot of athletes were disconnected outside of their sports seasons, so I started FCA to bring people together, spur deeper relationships with people, and give them an outlet to mentor other young athletes,” he said.
Damkoehler chose to attend Illinois State because of his family’s long history with the University. His father, Jason Damkoehler ‘91; mother Nancy (Whalen) Damkoehler ‘91; uncle Aaron Damkoehler ‘97, a former Reggie Redbird; grandmother Dianna Damkoehler ‘75; and great-grandfather, Illinois State’s first photographer Nelson Smith ‘47, are all alumni.
“I knew a lot of good things about the University because of how interconnected my family was and I just felt a real peace about going there,” Damkoehler said. “My parents were super-excited that I was going to be staying in town, as they have both lived here nearly their whole lives. They expressed how proud they were and reminded me that God honors those who honor Him.”
Damkoehler plans to continue volunteering at Illinois State where he will also study biochemistry and law.
“I don’t want to waste any talent or opportunity I’ve been given. As a Christian, I believe I should live my life to reflect Christ and I believe He would live in the same way and not waste his talents,” Damkoehler said.