Supporters Like You

Read about supporters who transform students’ lives through a first-class Catholic education at Benedictine.

Thankful Raven Parents Show Life-Changing Generosity

John and Suzie Liljestrand

John and Suzie Liljestrand are just normal people. One conversation with the couple who will celebrate 60 years of marriage next year will tell you that. There’s nothing wrong with being born into money, but that’s not John and Suzie. They started their lives together with very little, worked hard, saved, and benefited from a little “manna from Heaven” at the right time — which made all the difference in their lives and that of their only son, John, Jr. ’88.

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And now they’re giving back by sharing their blessings in the form of a sevenfigure estate gift to their established John E. Liljestrand, Jr., MD Scholarship at Benedictine College. The scholarship annually benefits Benedictine College students in memory of John, Jr., who passed away from a rare form of lung cancer in 2020. John and Suzie worked with Tim Andrews in the college’s advancement department to help design the best way to honor John, Jr., and help future Ravens at the same time.

John and Suzie got married with three years of school ahead for each of them, after John had spent a year at Conception Seminary. At first, Suzie worked and John continued his education, but disliked school enough to call it quits. John worked at Cessna while Suzie went back to school. When recession hit the aircraft industry, John was blessed with finding a job at OGE Electric Company in Oklahoma City, where he stayed until he retired. Suzie graduated and taught high school math before finishing her career as a computer programmer.

“I made $1.25 an hour putting John through college,” said Suzie. “One year we combined to work 16 different jobs. We worked wherever we could to make money.”

Even though John, Jr., was class valedictorian when he graduated from high school, one college on his list asked him to pay more than his parent’s annual combined income for just one year of school. That’s when he applied to Benedictine College and was awarded the Presidential Scholarship. That scholarship made it possible to attend college for an affordable price. It was one of many times that God provided what Suzie calls, “manna from Heaven.”

“It’s amazing,” said Suzie. “Whenever we’ve had a need, the money has been there.”

Always frugal and dedicated to responsible saving, John and Suzie began investing in rental property in 1980. Though retired from their original careers, they manage their own properties to this day.

While they continue to be dedicated to simple living, the value of their investments has increased with time. And in 2022, John and Suzie made the decision to pledge a portion of their estate to their scholarship at Benedictine College — a gift currently valued at over $2 million.

“God’s been good to us,” said Suzie. “That scholarship from Benedictine helped us so much and we’re thankful. So, we thought, ‘let’s be good to other people.’”

Normal people, thankful for God’s blessings, passing it on to others. That’s what the Benedictine College community is all about.

What Starts at Home Changes the World

Dr. Leonard and Barbara Rice

According to Tory Baucum, transforming culture starts at home. That is why he is thrilled to see the Human Dignity Curriculum implemented at Central School, in the same town which Benedictine College calls home. But his long-term vision is to see the principles being shared through the John Paul II Fellows and the Center for Family Life spread throughout the country, and even the world.

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Tory was recently elected to the Polish Academy of Sciences and appointed by the President of Poland to the Copernicus Academy. Tory is being recognized for his humanitarian and education efforts throughout Poland, which has been an unsung hero and bastion of faithfulness over and over throughout the war-ravaged history of Europe. Tory plans to have John Paul II Fellows provide support and service to the people of Poland.

“The Polish people are the heroes of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine,” said Tory. “There are two-to-three million refugees of this war in Poland, and no refugee camps. The people are living John Paul II’s vision for the Domestic Church by taking these people into their homes. Poland is propping up the Ukrainians. We need to be propping up Poland.”

Thanks to Tory’s work, the Center for Family Life received a major gift this past fall to help develop the programs that will transform culture in America and in the world. Current Raven parents, Dr. Leonard and Barbara Rice, presented the center with a gift of $100,000.

It’s that kind of generosity that makes the vision of both the Center for Family Life, and Central School, a reality. With help from others like the Rice family, Benedictine College will bring that reality from Atchison to the world.

Ravens Mourn ‘Herald of Faith’

Remembering Sister Jo Ann Fellin, 1934-2023

The Benedictine College community mourns the loss of one of our most beloved and longest tenured retired faculty members this past fall. Sister Jo Ann Fellin, OSB, PhD ’55, passed away on Nov. 19, 2023, at her home, Mount St. Scholastica Monastery.

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Sister Jo Ann was born in Marshfield, Mo., in 1934. She graduated from Mount St. Scholastica College, now Benedictine College, in 1955. In 1956 she entered Mount St. Scholastica Monastery in Atchison, Kansas, and pursued graduate studies in mathematics. She earned both her master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Illinois in Urbana, and returned to her alma mater, where she taught in in the Mathematics department, serving two terms as department chair.

As a professor, Sister Jo Ann excelled in both classroom teaching and contributing to the library of academic knowledge in her field. She received the Benedictine College Distinguished Educator Award, as well as the Kappa Mu Epsilon Distinguished Member and Distinguished Service awards. Sister Jo Ann established the Fellin Lecture Series at Benedictine College in honor of her Aunt Mary, which brings distinguished women speakers to the college campus.

Sister Jo Ann retired from the college in 2004 after 40 years of service. She continued to manage the Monastery Goods Gift Shop at the Mount until very late in life. She also served her religious community on the community council, senate, formation team and in many other capacities.

In 2022, Sister Jo Ann received the Offeramus Medal from Benedictine College (above), presented to her by President Stephen D. Minnis ’82, and Sister Esther Fangman, OSB ’72, then prioress of Mount St. Scholastica, during the college’s reunion weekend. The Offeramus Medal is given annually to an alumna who has made a Christian contribution to society and reflects honor on her alma mater, reflecting the qualities of a believer in the mission and values of Benedictine College.

“There are some who rank Sister Jo Ann as their favorite teacher at Benedictine College,” said President Minnis on the evening of Sister Jo Ann’s honoring. “Your impact is immeasurable. Thank you.”

Sister Jo Ann shared a verse from Romans, which captured her feelings that evening: “I give thanks through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is a herald throughout the world.”

The college is thankful for Sister Jo Ann’s life of service and dedication to learning. She is deeply missed.

Kansas’ Best Nursing Just Got Even Better

The Westerman Foundation’s $30,000 grant will add cameras to labs

The best program in the state deserves to have the best equipment and opportunities available for its faculty, students, and staff.

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The best program in the state deserves to have the best equipment and opportunities available for its faculty, students, and staff. That’s the belief of the Westerman Foundation, which carries a beloved name in the Benedictine College community. The foundation has awarded the college a gift that will make a world of difference for scores of future nurses.

For the second consecutive year, the Benedictine College School of Nursing has been named the #1 nursing program in Kansas by That organization uses a stringent process to analyze all 32 nursing programs in the state. Benedictine College has, once again, come out on top.

As if that news wasn’t enough to celebrate, the college recently received a grant in the amount of $30,000 from the Westerman Foundation for its School of Nursing. The grant is being used as an upgrade to the audio and visual equipment in its learning laboratories, including cameras and microphones for simulation rooms. They will allow students to observe their classmates as they perform the duties of nurses. And they will also allow students who have worked in the simulation rooms to review their own work after the fact.

It’s a perfect way to let students not only learn from each other, but to perfect their craft as they see what they, themselves, are doing well and where they have room to improve.

The Westerman Foundation was founded by Laura Jane Westerman in 2000. Jane and her husband, Howard Westerman, Sr. ’50 (left), were members of the Benedictine College board of directors and dedicated supporters of the college, a tradition carried on by their children. Howard, Sr. and Jane passed away in 1999 and 2012, respectively. The college’s STEM building, Westerman Hall, is named for their family. For nearly a quarter century, the Westerman Foundation has helped fund numerous projects on the college campus as a part of its mission, which includes providing financial support for educational institutions with an emphasis on Catholic education.

“The new equipment will assist our program as we move towards competency-based learning, which is the future of nursing,” said Dr. Jackie Pick Harris ’98, director of the college’s School of Nursing. “Students need to be able to demonstrate that they not only possess the knowledge necessary to be good nurses, but to also show that they can do the actual work they’ve learned.”

Benedictine College offers its sincerest thanks to the Westerman Foundation for this grant, and their many years of generosity and helping continue to make the place its founder dearly loved one of the great Catholic colleges in America.

Sunderland Foundation Grant

Advances Benedictine College Library Project

In October 2023, Benedictine College received a generous $1.5 million grant from The Sunderland Foundation to be used towards the construction of its new library.

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The Sunderland Foundation was founded in 1945 by Lester T. Sunderland of the Sunderland Brothers Company, who later served as President of the Ash Grove Cement Company for 33 years. Today the Foundation supports capital building projects for charitable organizations with the mission of improving “the quality of life in the communities we serve, with attention to those populations with the greatest need.”

The college broke ground on the new library in September 2023, and the project is scheduled for completion in 2025. The 53,000 square-foot, state of the art library will feature greatly increased study and collection space, as well as a replica of the Assembly Room in Constitution Hall in Philadelphia.

Raven Football Star Honored at the Sugar Bowl and Capitol

Reed Levi ’23 scored big in games, and even bigger in the community

It’s not often that a Raven Football player is celebrated not just by his conference and the NAIA — but by Tim Tebow at the Sugar Bowl and the Kansas Legislature in Topeka.

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On Feb. 21, 2024, Reed Levi was commended on the floor of the Kansas Capitol where he was honored for being selected as a member of the Allstate and American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team®.

The Good Works Team was established in 1992 by the College Football Association, recognizing the extra efforts made by college football players and student support staff off the field. A distinguished panel, including former national champion, Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback, Tim Tebow, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit and others, select 11 members from the NCAA D1-FBS division, and 11 members from all other college football divisions.

“It is just really humbling,” Reed said of his inclusion on the team. “It’s an honor and a testament to the culture that we’re building at Benedictine, and it feels good to give back to the community that has given so much.”

As a part of being named to the Good Works Team, Reed was invited to participate in the Sugar Bowl Parade in New Orleans, and recognized on the field during the Sugar Bowl, January 1, 2024. While in New Orleans, Reed and the other honorees helped run a football clinic for area youth.

Reed, a tight end and team captain, has been an integral part of the Benedictine and Atchison communities throughout his undergraduate and graduate careers as a student athlete. He coaches youth football for the Atchison Recreation Commission, serves as a Bible Study leader, led student athletes in the annual Atchison Clean-Up Day, served as a tutor in the Student Success Center, was a Gregorian Fellow, and worked with the Student Athletic Leadership Council to implement the High Five Friday initiative with Atchison elementary school students.

The efforts are a part of Benedictine College’s commitment to its “Catholic” and “Benedictine” pillars — the adherence to the 1,500 year-old Benedictine tradition of living out the Catholic faith in one’s life. One of the school’s Benedictine values is Ora et labora — work and prayer. As St. James said in his epistle, “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but not works?”

“Reed Levi is a tremendous student-athlete here at Benedictine College,” said Benedictine’s head football coach Joel Osborn in an interview when the Good Works Team® was announced. “He gives his time and talent to so many people and organizations. We talk about loving and serving others as a pillar of our program. Reed does that within our football team, college, and community of Atchison.”

A Match Made in Atchison

God matched two varsity Ravens, and then an employer matched their generous donations

This is a tale of matching — the matching of a Raving couple and Benedictine’s matching donation program. Dean ’15 and Hannah Grazda ’15 Tiwald were married May 25, 2019, in Albuquerque, N.M. But the story of their relationship began long before that — before they met, and even before they or their parents were even born.

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Dean and Hannah both came to Benedictine College on athletic scholarships. Dean, from Omaha, was a member of the Raven basketball team, and Hannah, from Albuquerque, played volleyball. They met in the training room at the college and before long they were dating. Some time passed, and at one of Dean’s basketball games, Hannah shared her reasons for coming to Benedictine with some of Dean’s family. She mentioned that her grandfather, Max Grazda ’42 had played football at St. Benedict’s (now Benedictine) College in the 1940s.

That information sparked a memory for Dean’s mother, Holly Lynch Tiwald. She knew her own grandfather, Frank Lynch ’42, had also played football at St. Benedict’s around the same time. After a little research, Holly and her husband, Rick, discovered that Max Grazda and Frank Lynch not only knew each other from their days at St. Benedict’s, but they had also been high school classmates at Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas, along with Frank’s wife, Margaret Meikel Lynch. Frank and Max played football together at St. Benedict’s. Frank was a running back, and Max was an offensive lineman.

Holly Tiwald believes the match of Dean and Hannah was “orchestrated at a higher level — the divine intervention of the good Lord above with the help of two grandpas. I’m sure Frank and Max were watching from above, wondering if we would figure it out some day.”

It is estimated that more than 75 of Frank and Max’s descendants were on hand to see Dean and Hannah tie the knot.

Sticking with the theme of the “match,” Rick and Holly Tiwald recently took advantage of the one-to-one matching program through Rick’s employer, Deloitte, to help fund a scholarship in honor of Dean’s teammate, RJ Demps. Dean, Hannah, and several of Dean’s former teammates have given to the scholarship, as well.

RJ passed away during his time as a student at Benedictine College. You can learn more about the RJ Demps Memorial Scholarship on page 11 of this issue. Because of his employer’s matching gift program, Rick and Holly’s gift will have twice the impact for future students of Benedictine College.

Who knows? Maybe their gift will help another Raven couple complete another love story 70 years in the making!

Emotional Endowment Creates New Scientists

Tears show a legacy of commitment in professor and donor’s project

In an emotional meeting, professor Doug Brothers and board member Lené Westerman created a new legacy for STEM students at Benedictine College.

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With a three-page proposal in hand, Dr. Douglas Brothers sat at a table across from the woman whose last name is engraved above the entrance to the building where he has worked for the past 55 years.

Dr. Brothers carefully outlined the program that has become near and dear to his heart.

“I was there when your father handed a check to the President to save the college,” he said, referring to the late Texas petroleum engineer Howard G. Westerman, Sr., whose generous gift in the late ’80s exceeded that of any other individual donor at that time.

Lené replied through tears, “My father may not be here anymore, but I am here for you.”

Brothers’ proposal was for five undergraduate researchers working with three Astronomy and Physics faculty to each receive a $4,000 stipend from donor-supported departmental funds to continue their research during summer 2023. However, there were so many more students who wished to be a part of the program, and faculty who were willing to tutor and support their research. The program could quickly expand if more funding was available.

The initiative stemmed from Chair Dr. Ryan Maderak’s priority to support undergraduate research, which is often a determining factor in graduate school admission and an imperative experience in the professional development of a scientist. Dr. Maderak, along with alumni, Dr. Joe ’69 and Frankee Wright ’69 Daglen, began the Daglen Summer Astronomy Internship in the summer of 2020 supporting two students.

The program worked so well that the Physics and Astronomy Advisory Committee (PAAC), chaired by alumnus Joe Pajor ’75, took notice and created an endowment. The “Dr. A. Douglas Brothers Student Faculty Research Endowment” provides students with physics and astronomy opportunities. The group knew they would need to raise a minimum of $400,000 to allow physics research to join the summer program.

The group worked hard pledging large gifts, offering challenges, and asking Astronomy and Physics alumni to join their efforts. Dr. Brothers led the charge with the first gift of $10,000. Over the next two years more than 90 donors had raised over $200,000 for the endowed fund. They were half-way there, but funding sources were now limited, and they needed a boost to get them to their goal.

This is how Lené Westerman ’85, happened to be sitting across the table from Dr. Brothers. Lené listened as Dr. Brothers talked about molecular astrophysics, solar power technologies, and ultrafast laser physics. Her only question was, “How much do you need?”

Dr. Brothers said that he was planning to add an additional $71,500 he had from the sale of some property if Lené would be willing to match it. She quickly said, “Done!” and held out her hand to shake on their deal. The shake turned to hugs and finally tears as the pair realized what they had accomplished.

The disbursement of these endowed funds is the beginning steps to create summer research opportunities for even more undergraduate students.

A Call to Care: Connelly School of Nursing Endowment

A couple’s endowment supports nursing students and faculty at Benedictine College, reflecting their backgrounds in nursing, education, and military service. Don’s ongoing involvement with the school is underscored through his role as an adjunct history professor.

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The Connelly School of Nursing Endowment reflects one couple’s lifelong connection to nursing and their association with Benedictine College. Income from this program endowment can be used by the Director of Nursing in support of student research and scholarships, faculty professional development, equipment acquisition and maintenance, and other urgent academic needs within the School of Nursing.

In 2023, Don PhD and Lynne Connelly PhD, RN, funded the initial creation of a simulation laboratory for the Benedictine Nursing School. The laboratory provides Benedictine nursing students with a full range of nursing situations to hone their clinical skills and nursing judgement.

From nursing aide in high school to registered nurse to Colonel in the Army Nursing Corps, Lynne Connelly has been a practicing member of the profession all her adult life, primarily in emergency and medical-surgical nursing. She and her husband Donald both grew up in Maryland. Don’s mother was a nursing supervisor at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Lynne and Don are both retired Army officers, Nurse and Military Intelligence respectively. After the military, they both became educators. Lynne taught at Church Home and Hospital School of Nursing in Baltimore, the Army Medical Department Center and School, The University of Texas Health Science Center-San Antonio, the University of Kansas School of Nursing, and Benedictine College.

Don has his doctorate in history, and he taught at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth before retiring as Professor Emeritus. He also taught briefly at Benedictine College as an adjunct history professor.

With a doctorate in Nursing, Lynne was a nursing educator and became the founding director of the Nursing Program at Benedictine College in 2010. She retired in 2017 as the Robert J. Dehaemers Endowed Chair of Nursing after having organized the facilities, hired the staff, and watched six classes of nurses graduate. She later returned from retirement to be the interim director and then an adjunct professor.

Drs. Virgil and Holly Jacobs 

One day, Virgil Jacobs’ father and a priest from St. Benedict’s Abbey came across the field where he was plowing. They asked him if he would like to go to college, and perhaps enter the seminary. Virgil loved farming, but he soon boarded the train for Atchison.

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After Virgil graduated from Benedictine College in 1957 with a bachelor’s degree in biology, and he continued his education by completing his master’s degree from St. Louis University and his PhD from the University of Kansas. Though he didn’t know it at the time, his decision to board a train to Benedictine was the start to a lifelong passion for education. 

While Virgil’s love of education might have started in Atchison, it ultimately led him on a journey around the world. In his last year at KU, Virgil taught at the University of Santo Tomas School of Medicine in The Philippines, where he completed his doctoral research. He also studied neuroscience at the Brain Research Institute in Amsterdam, Holland. After returning stateside, he taught at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Mich. before serving in the American Medical Association Vietnam Medical School Project at the University of Saigon in 1968.

In Saigon, he met Holly Harrington, who was also teaching in the AMA Project. They were married in Stratford, Texas in 1970. For more than 35 years, Virgil taught at the University of Hawaii, Texas A&M University, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Georgia State University.

Dr. Holly Jacobs funded the Dr. Virgil L. Jacobs Scholarship to remember the impact that St. Benedict’s College made on her husband and his dedication to medical education. With her generous gift, Dr. Jacobs ensured that her husband’s passion for education will be remembered, and that future Benediction students will also have the opportunity to discover their own passion for learning.  

“Both of us are appreciative of the foundation that Benedictine College provided us and wish to support that foundation for students today.”

—Joe, M.D. and Frankee Wright, Benedictine College Supporters

The Robert J. Dehaemers Endowed Chair of Nursing

Robert Dehaemers had close ties to the Benedictines through his cousin, Sister Janelle Maes, OSB, who was a member of Mount St. Scholastica Monastery. He had longed to go to Benedictine College, but Benedictine did not have a nursing program at the time, so he had to go elsewhere.

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After earning his Registered Nursing degree from St. Margaret School of Nursing and his Bachelor of Science and Master’s degrees from Avila University, he entered the U.S. Air Force as a 2nd Lt. and combat nurse. He rose to the rank of Captain during several tours in Vietnam and went into nursing at Providence Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., after the war. He eventually went into healthcare administration and served for many years as vice president of compliance at Sun Health in Dallas.

Dehaemers never forgot about that missed opportunity and maintained a lifelong desire to bring a nursing program to Benedictine College. He went on to will his estate to Benedictine College and its nursing program and upon his passing in 2014, those funds went into the endowment. The college awarded its first nursing degrees in 2012.

During the college’s annual Scholarship Ball, February 28, 2015, Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis announced the creation of a new endowed position, the Robert J. Dehaemers Endowed Chair of Nursing.

Lynne M. Connelly, Ph.D., RN, is the first recipient of the Robert J. Dehaemers Chair of Nursing. She is the current head of the Benedictine College Nursing program.

Dr. Connelly joined Benedictine College in 2010 to help create and launch the new Nursing program. She has a tremendous amount of clinical and academic teaching experience throughout her career in the U.S. Army and as a member of the faculty at the University of Kansas School of Nursing.

“Education has been a deep commitment of mine for a long time,” Connelly said, explaining that her Master’s degree was focused on nursing education and her minor in the Nursing Ph.D. program was educational psychology.

Connelly served in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps for 20 years, retiring as Chief, Department of Nursing Science at the United States Army Medical Department Center and School. During her time in the Army Nurse Corps she also served as a consultant to the (Army) Surgeon General for Nursing Education and Enlisted Training.

She was awarded the “A” Proficiency Designator for Nursing Education while on active duty and was an active member of the Army Nurse Corps senior leadership strategic planning group. Connelly has published over 30 articles in national journals and presented at numerous research conferences. She currently is a manuscript reviewer for Nursing Research and the Journal of Nursing Scholarship. In addition, Dr. Connelly sits on the editorial board of MedSurg Nursing.

“She is a great fit within our mission and is an outstanding leader heading this important department at the college,” said Kimberly

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