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Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Memorial foundation pays tribute

When I wrote recently about the Adele Knight Excellence in Teaching Award, I noted the committee had chosen that way of paying tribute to the late Latin teacher at Willoughby Union High rather than setting up another scholarship fund because there was no shortage of scholarships available.

It wasn’t long before I heard from representatives of four scholarship organizations. As it happens, all four are near and dear to my heart.

So I would like to comment on all four, and will begin with one that honors one of the sweetest young ladies you could ever hope to meet — Nancy Theiling Thuma.

I have known her parents, Irene Gunvalsen Theiling and her husband, Jim Theiling, since our high school days. Irene was homecoming queen at Union High three years after I graduated and Jim was from West High but we all knew him because he was a state hurdles champion in track, and Irene made sure we all got to know him.

They had three wonderful kids. The youngest, Nancy, was at South High with one of my two daughters and was an absolute sweetheart.

In addition to having her mother’s good looks, she inherited her dad’s athletic ability. She was the only female athlete to participate in varsity sports at South High. Before the formation of girls’ teams she played on the varsity tennis team, and ran with the track team in junior high.

She was also an accomplished snow skier, winning numerous awards while participating with the Euclid Ski Club in New York state.

She also played in the Willoughby Women’s Softball League for 10 years.

In 1992 she was diagnosed with brain cancer and fought a valiant battle with the disease until her passing in May, 1996, at the age of 35. She and her husband, David Thuma, lived in Parma at the time.

Her strength and courage were inspirational to her family and friends, who were motivated to establish the Nancy Theiling Thuma Foundation to award scholarships to deserving graduates of South.

Emphasis is placed less on an applicant’s academic achievements and more on a demonstrated desire to excel in post secondary education. The effort has been an unqualified success!

Since the fund’s inception, which began with seed money from individuals who touched Nancy’s life, it has grown to $94,000 and is projected to be at $108,000 by this time next year. Contributions, of course, are tax deductible.

Since 1997, scholarships totaling more than $77,000 have been awarded to 56 outstanding South graduates. Eleven other charitable contributions have also been made, including six Gerald Daniels Awards.

Scholarship recipients have attended both private and state-supported schools.

A brief list includes Lakeland Community College, Cleveland State University, John Carroll University and Case Western Reserve University.

In 2006 the foundation made a commitment to the Gerald Daniels Memorial Scholarship. He was a math teacher who began his career in 1969 at Willoughby Junior High, later moving to South High.

Many members of the Nancy Theiling Thuma Foundation had been math students in his classes.

In 1988 he died quite suddenly. A scholarship established in his honor ran from 1989 through 1996, when the remaining funds were presented to his twin daughters on their 18th birthday.

Because he was so highly respected and admired, the Nancy foundation provided funds to re-start the $1,000 scholarship awards.

If I were to say that I have known Jim and Irene Theiling for 65 years I might be exaggerating by a couple of years, but not much more than that. And I must say I have never known a more handsome couple. Naturally, they would have good-looking kids.

At Nancy’s passing, the response was almost immediate to establish a memorial to her life. The result was the foundation which bears her name and which has been such a success.

The Nancy fund continues to grow and thrive. Contributions can be sent to the foundation coordinator, Steve Jenkins, 4794 Willoughcroft Road, Willoughby, OH, 44094.

Next week I will mention the Arthur S. Holloway, Romeo Pallante and Pat Totedo funds — great people all!


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