P.E.O. chapter carries on past president's legacy with scholarship
It was late afternoon on July 7, 2016, in St. Charles. Jan Willenborg was driving into town for a routine doctor's appointment when she was struck and killed instantly in a tragic automobile accident.
Jan and her husband, Bob, had lived in St. Charles almost 40 years and raised their three children there. Their daughter, Leigh Ann Kraus, and her family live in Geneva.
Jan was a member and past president of P.E.O. Chapter OB/St. Charles. P.E.O. provides educational opportunities for women by offering scholarships, grants, awards and loans to help women enhance their lives through learning.
As the news of her death became known, her P.E.O. sisters were devastated to consider the loss of their dear friend.
"It was hard to imagine a meeting without Jan's smiling face and encouraging words," said Chapter OB past President Heide Hughes.
Often through the days of her wake and funeral, P.E.O. sisters thought a great deal about what made Jan such an exceptional person. People would often comment how strikingly beautiful Jan was, but her inner and outer beauty were equally matched. Jan was gracious, genuine, kind, encouraging and beloved by all.
Members continued to keep in touch with Jan's husband, Bob, with phone calls, often inviting Bob to join with other P.E.O. husbands at social gatherings.
"Everyone seemed to draw strength from being together," said Diane Conn, another Chapter OB member and close friend.
In 2018, Bob Willenborg and his adult children, Tim, Leigh Ann, and Susan, approached Chapter OB with the desire to honor their beloved wife and mother with a memorial scholarship.
"We knew how much P.E.O. meant to Jan and the significant role it played in her life," Bob said.
A scholarship committee was formed, with a few P.E.O. sisters and family members meeting to establish qualifications and guidelines that would honor Jan's memory.
The first Jan Bateman Willenborg Scholarship through the P.E.O. Foundation was awarded May 9, 2019, in the auditorium of St. Charles North High School. It was established by Jan's family to honor a graduating high-school senior, a young woman from the area who best exemplifies Jan's spirit.
Her family knew how much Jan's friendships and the goals of P.E.O. meant to her -- to promote educational opportunities for women.
The recipient chosen this year is Grace Keane, who best represents Jan's kindness. Her counselor at school said, "Grace is one of the kindest students in her class."
Grace has ambitious plans for the future and wants to become a pediatric oncologist. She hopes to attend St. Louis University and major in biochemistry in the fall.
After the presentation at the St. Charles North High School Honors Night, Leigh Ann Klaus, Jan's daughter, presented a gold necklace to remind Grace of the support of the Willenborg family in Jan's memory and the sisterhood of P.E.O.