Nearly 70 years ago, a young woman walked the same paths you now walk on this beautiful campus. No doubt, even she didn't know then what an influence she would later become to generations of young people attending University of Illinois or young 4-H members.
This fall, Lila Jeanne Eichelberger will be inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame Class of 2016 at a ceremony in Chevy Chase Md. Known around campus as "Shorty" because of her small 5-foot frame, Eichelberger stands as a giant among her peers for her philanthropic efforts to support 4-H and the university.
A woman of remarkable grace, Lila Jeanne tirelessly campaigns with her time, energy, and financial resources to the advancement of Illinois 4-H, 4-H Memorial Camp, 4-H House, University of Illinois, and Illini Sports. She is a member-emeritus of the Illinois 4-H Foundation Board of Directors.
Generosity is one of the four pillars on which 4-H stands, along with creating a community of belonging, providing opportunities for youth to gain independence, and enhancing learning so young people master the life skills they need for successful careers. Lila Jeanne learned her lesson well.
She has made financial gifts to U of I and Illinois 4-H every year for 50 years. In total, her giving to 4-H alone exceeds $2 million. In 2000, she created an endowment to honor her late mother, a 50-year 4-H leader. Today, she continues to add value with an estate commitment which will endow the Margarette E. Athey 4-H Adult Volunteer Leader Development Fund at over one quarter-million dollars.
More than that, people simple adore Lila Jeanne for who she is. Says Curt Sinclair, 4-H Memorial Camp director and beneficiary of many recent Eichelberger gifts, "The instant you meet Lila Jeanne Eichelberger, your personal definition of 'genuineness' is shattered and the bar is raised higher than you had it before.
"Nothing in the mile-long list of her accomplishments is self-serving," he says. "My personal experience with her is entwined by our common belief in the incredible power 4-H camping programs can have in the lives of young people, both campers and counselors. Her purely genuine spirit of the 4-H pledge; that of head, heart, hands, and health, mentor us all."
Eichelberger credits 4-H with shaping her career choices and leading her to U of I where she received two degrees and an advanced certificate. She taught home economics for 40 years. She married the late Paul Eichelberger. "Paul was the love of my life; we shared so many interests - one key one being Fighting Illini sports," she said. "Neither of us would be the person we became if it had not been for sports, 4-H or the University of Illinois."
When you imagine your future self, will generosity be the thing you are known for? It starts the moment you look past your own needs to the needs of those around you, in your club, your community, your country and your world.