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Couple transforms love into opportunities for students

October 13, 2015
Arthur and Sue Doederlein

Arthur and Sue Doederlein

The legacy of two emeriti professors – and their affection for Northern Illinois University – will live on in the form of scholarships for students majoring in the humanities.

Arthur and Sue Doederlein joined the faculty of NIU on their seventh wedding anniversary in 1969. That day in September marked the beginning of a passion for the university and its students.

The Doederleins’ $100,000 commitment to students is deeply personal – NIU students remind them of how they came of age and their own journeys to get an education and make a better life.

Both grew up in Toledo, children of working-class parents.

“Growing up, I didn’t know what a bachelor’s degree or Ph.D. was,” Sue said. “Our parents knew education was important and supported us, both monetarily and personally.”

Both went to DePauw University, a small liberal arts college in Indiana. Arthur was a Rector Scholar, receiving a full-ride scholarship. Sue’s education also was funded heavily through scholarships.

The young couple married at the end of Sue’s freshman year when Arthur finished his sophomore year.

“Arthur worked two jobs and I worked one, and our parents did what they could to support us,” Sue said.

Not wanting to be left behind when Arthur graduated, Sue concentrated on her studies and graduated from DePauw in three years.

After finishing graduate school, the couple began their job search. “We wanted to go to a place where working-class students could get a quality education,” Sue recalled. “It was very easy for us to come to NIU.”

Art DoederleinArthur served for more than 30 years as the director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Communication – advising students on what courses to take, counseling them on graduate and professional schools and career opportunities. Arthur passed away in August 2012.

Sue was a professor of English who went on to serve as associate dean for Undergraduate Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She assisted NIU students for 45 years, until retiring in June 2014.

“The only academic job I ever had was at NIU,” Sue added.

Throughout their long tenures, both witnessed students struggle with financing their education as they moved closer toward graduation.

“Students receive scholarships and financial aid as first-year students,” Sue said. “Sometimes that support doesn’t continue through to graduation, and that makes it tough.”

Sue knows first-hand about dealing with adversity while earning a degree. The young couple was in the same city for graduate studies, but different schools – Sue at the University of Chicago and Arthur at Northwestern University. Then, the unthinkable happened. Arthur required specialized medical care at the University of Michigan Hospital, which forced the couple to leave Chicago and move back to Toledo with their parents for the duration of the treatment. During this time, Sue was awarded a Danforth Fellowship. Once the medical treatments concluded, the couple returned to Chicago so Arthur could conclude his studies at Northwestern.

“Desperate to resume a normal life, I told Arthur that I’d go to Northwestern rather than returning to the University of Chicago as we’d originally planned,” Sue said, adding that at the time she made that offer that she hadn’t even applied at the school.

“I got on the phone to the Graduate Admissions Office at Northwestern and told them I wanted to start right away and that I would bring my Danforth Fellowship with me,” she said. She was admitted and the rest, as they say, is history.

That experience had a lasting effect on the young couple.

“That was our true discovery about how generous scholarship support could change lives,” Sue said.

Photo of a 1970s typewriterThe scholarship, targeting seniors, will rotate between students enrolled in the CHANCE Program and honors students majoring in the humanities.

“Teaching in the CHANCE program was the greatest reward of our academic careers,” Sue said. “Honors students represented who we became. Both programs are equally important in encouraging academic excellence.”

The Doederleins taught in both programs. Sue’s passion was with CHANCE students, where she taught a first semester course for CHANCE students where they had to write essays that were graded by other English instructors.

“The idea was to earn at least a C from instructors who didn’t know you,” Sue said. “The students all passed on the first try. CHANCE students tend to be more willing to take risks and try something new.”

Arthur worked more with honors students. “Arthur directed many honors capstone projects because he loved working with the students,” Sue said.

It didn’t matter what population of students they had in the classroom. Teaching was their true love. For their efforts, both Doederleins were recognized with NIU’s Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award – Sue in 1984 and Arthur in 1994.

The Doederlein Family

The Doederlein Family

Given their backgrounds, supporting students studying the humanities was an easy decision.

“The humanities teach us how to live and why we live,” Sue said. “It’s all about how humans get through life. Humanities are central to that life cycle.”

Sue added that books taught both her and her husband so much. They tried to put the knowledge they gained in books and through life experiences into practice in order to serve others.

Paying it forward to enable current students get the education they need to succeed was always in the cards for the Doederleins.

“This scholarship was definitely something Arthur and I knew we wanted to do when we had money,” Sue said. “Northern was a very special place for us. It’s home for us.”

Friends, colleagues and former students can add to this scholarship fund by giving to the NIU Foundation. Contact Teri Gensler at (815) 753-1301 or give online; in the designation section, reference the Arthur P. and Sue Warrick Doederlein Scholarship.

by Paula Meyer