Leaders & Legacies: Dr. Thomas R. and Shirley Scott, a lifelong commitment to education and philanthropy
A lifelong commitment to education and philanthropy
Leaders & Legacies: Stories of Local Impact is an ongoing series brought to you in partnership by the Daily Herald and the Legacy Society of DuPage Foundation. Leaders & Legacies: Stories of Local Impact is a recurring feature highlighting the inspiring stories of local individuals, families and businesses that have made or are making a lasting impact through their generosity and leadership.
The series continues with Dr. Thomas R. & Shirley Scott.
It's not common to meet a true Canadian frontiersman living in Lombard.
Dr. Tom Scott and his late wife, Shirley, dedicated their lives to teaching others.
By living a simple life and working hard, Tom, who had grown up in rural Canada, and Shirley, born on an Iowa farm, became unexpected philanthropists, helping cultivate bright futures for others through their shared love of education and service.
Tom Scott was born in 1929 and grew up near Hudson Bay with his parents and three brothers. In the early 1930s, Tom's family was living in a rented log cabin that was falling down. His parents packed up the family, including 4-year-old Tom, and took a one-horse buggy 25 miles into the woods to build a new homestead, courtesy of the Dominion Lands Act, an 1872 Canadian law encouraging settlement in the prairie country.
"My father called us bush bunnies," Scott said.
"It was the 1930s and no one had money," Scott said. "We barely had enough to eat half of the time. But we survived."
Their home had two windows, a small table, an oven, and double bunk beds. Tom recalls one evening when his father came home from an all-day hunting trip, dragging a five-point buck behind him.
"We had our meat for the winter," Scott said.
The boys rode horses to get to the nearest one-room schoolhouse that had one teacher for all grade levels. Tom graduated with a grade nine exam, which permitted him to go to public school 25 miles away. Wondering how he was going to get there, Tom's father devised a plan.
"He told me I would be living with three other boys in a doctor's home," Scott said. "I would have to cook my own meals, and look after myself, and it would cost $8 a month. I had to move to this little town, otherwise I couldn't go to school. But I was determined. I wanted to go to school."
Tom's father got him a job at the town dairy to make the rent money. Each morning, he woke up at 4:30 a.m., went to the dairy to wake up 80 cows and cleaned the manure from their udders to get them ready for milking. Afterward, he sterilized the equipment and went home to get cleaned up for school.
After graduating high school, Tom attended a one-year program at Garbutt Business College in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. For the next few years, he worked as an accountant and volunteered at the local YMCA. He loved the social interactions and camaraderie.
"It was made for me," Scott said.
Tom shadowed the director of evening youth activities and asked if he could fill the role when it became vacant. A bachelor's degree was required to obtain the position, and Tom only had a certificate.
The president of the YMCA advised Tom to pack his bags and go to George Williams College, then located in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. He arrived at Union Station on a Sunday in August 1958.
"I was told I had to make a straight-A average or else I would be out," Scott said. "So I buckled into it. The first semester I got straight A's and I made the dean's list."
Tom got a part-time job at the Chicago YMCA as director of activities for young adults. Instead of a salary, he had his college tuition, meals, and books all paid for, and received a $25 monthly stipend. To make extra money, Tom offered 75-cent haircuts in his dorm room and had customers almost every night.
In 1959, Tom was invited to go on a weekend retreat to Bridgman, Michigan, with friends from the Chicago Methodist Church he had met through the YMCA.
Following dinner the first evening, he walked to the beach and saw a young woman sitting on a bench. After introducing himself to Shirley, he learned that she was also living in Chicago, working on a master's degree in elementary education at Roosevelt University. She was passionate about teaching young minds.
A farm girl from Ackley, Iowa, she was valedictorian of her high school graduating class and had received her bachelor's degree from Elmhurst College (now Elmhurst University).
Tom and Shirley went square dancing that evening and were married two years later.
"She swung me off my feet," Scott said. "It's like a dream story."
When they bought their first home in Lombard, Tom was working full-time at the YMCA while finishing his master's degree at George Williams College. Shirley was a first-grade teacher in Franklin Park.
"She loved her kids," Scott said.
Tom became dean of the evening program at the YMCA and developed an adult education program that led him to become president of the Illinois Adult Education Association. While working at the YMCA, he obtained the first doctoral degree in adult and continuing education from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb in 1975 and became associate dean for NIU's College of Continuing Education. Tom later taught at NIU and favored his group of graduate students that were also teachers.
As stewards of education, the Scotts were driven to help the next generation of students.
Over the years, they contributed to several significant improvement projects at NIU, including the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center. To honor each of their alma maters, they established a scholarship fund at NIU for aspiring teachers, and purchased an insurance policy to fund a scholarship at Elmhurst University.
When Shirley retired from teaching full-time, she tutored young children and volunteered for several community service projects at NIU. In 2013, the NIU Foundation honored the Scotts with the Award for Lifetime Philanthropy for their dedication to sustained giving in celebration of NIU's mission.
Tom and Shirley also found charitable interests rooted in their faith and history.
In 1962, they became members of First Church of Lombard. First Church owns Maple Street Chapel, which was built in 1870 right next door after the original chapel burned down in 1869. The Chapel was falling into disrepair and there were plans to tear it down. The Scotts were asked by fellow church members if they would like to help preserve and restore the Chapel.
"When we heard they were going to tear it down, we went over to look at the Chapel," Scott said. "It was beautiful."
Over the next 35 years, Tom led a dedicated group of volunteers to maintain and preserve the Chapel and, in 2000, the Maple Street Chapel Preservation Society Inc. became a certified nonprofit organization.
Current Maple Street Chapel Preservation Society President Ken Bohl referred to Tom as the "protector of the building for a very long time" as he and Shirley helped fund necessary maintenance projects over the years, including a sprinkler system, flooring, exterior painting, and roofing.
After Tom retired from academics, he received his real estate license and sold homes for Coldwell Banker. His interest in real estate began when he purchased a rental property in Lombard in the late 1960s and sold it 10 years later for triple what he paid. He subsequently bought a five-unit townhouse complex in Lombard, and a 10-unit building in Melrose Park, which he maintained on his own for 18 years. When it was time to hang up his tool belt, Tom sold his investment properties and has been a passive real estate investor with JVM Realty in Oak Brook for more than 30 years.
"I had always invested in real estate," Scott said. "And that made it possible for us to give money to these causes."
"They don't make people like Tom anymore," said Mae Behm, vice president of investor relations at JVM. "He is such a delightful gentleman. His generosity over the years has benefited many organizations and inspired others to be charitable."
Tom lost his best friend and the love of his life in 2013, and continues to celebrate Shirley's memory in every charitable endeavor.
In 2016, George Williams College, which had moved its campus to Williams Bay, Wisconsin, and later merged with Aurora University, dedicated its new two-story library as the Thomas R. and Shirley Klein Scott Library in honor of its benefactors.
Tom served on the board of Aurora University and had discussed the opportunity with Shirley when it came up during a meeting years prior.
"We knew it would be a nice thing to do," Scott said. "And we could afford to do it."
Last year, through DuPage Foundation, Tom set up endowment funds for LOVE Christian Clearinghouse and SCARCE as a way to build sustainable income for each organization. LOVE Executive Director Ann Marie Schuster said she was overwhelmed by Tom's generosity.
Shirley's vast collection of Beanie Babies was also donated to LOVE and has been used at fundraisers and as gifts for Toy Express, a program that gathers toys and donates them to children in need every Christmas.
"Shirley's gift made a lot of kids happy," Schuster said.
Tom and Shirley's generosity will certainly have an impact on generations to come. As a little boy who climbed trees and lived in the woods, Tom never imagined he would be in a position to be a philanthropist and give to the causes he loves most. He ensured his giving would endure when he became a member of DuPage Foundation's Legacy Society, naming the foundation as a beneficiary of his estate to support these causes in perpetuity.
"We started out with nothing and now I want to benefit the community in the best way I can," Scott said. "Not bad for this bush bunny."
• The Leaders & Legacies series is brought to you by the Legacy Society of DuPage Foundation. Suggestions for future stories can be sent to Mindy Saban, director of communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Interested in learning more about how you can make an impact or create a legacy for your community and favorite causes? Visit www.dupagefoundation.org or call (630) 665-5556. DuPage Foundation is located at 3000 Woodcreek Drive, Suite 310, in Downers Grove, IL 60515.
Historic Maple Street Chapel toursOne Sunday a month, the Maple Street Chapel Preservation Society is offering public tours of the Maple Street Chapel, led by a docent. The chapel, built in 1870, features an American Gothic board-and-batten design and stained glass "grisaille" windows. The historic site at 200 S. Main St. in Lombard is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visit maplestreetchapel.org or call (630) 627-0171 to learn more.
The preservation society, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, also hosts Maple Street Concerts to help fund and preserve the historic Chapel. The next concert will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 23, featuring folk singer and songwriter Dennis Warner. Tickets are $20, and can be purchased at www.maplestreetconcerts.org or at the door, pending availability, cash/check only.