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Janet Tillman & Richard Speck's Story

We write today to share one especially touching story, the story of Janet Tillman & Richard Speck, a couple here in Delaware who have led lives of generosity and commitment to others. After doing some research on Planned Giving here at Delaware State University, Janet & Richard reached out to us to share their interest in creating an Endowed Scholarship Fund and Bequest to support our students and University in perpetuity. 

Janet TIllman & Richard Speck

Without further adieu, here is their story—

Janet & Richard’s story in their own words…

What inspires your generosity?

Janet: Richard and I decided we wanted our financial resources to be used to change lives now and after we are long gone. We have always known that we wanted portions of our estate to be used for scholarships. Richard selected his seminary, Meadville Lombard Theological School, for inclusion in our trust. Having grown up on a farm near the small town of Boaz in northeast Alabama, it has always been my desire to endow a scholarship fund for students from low-income backgrounds from rural communities.

Is there some connection between your background and your giving priorities?

Janet: I grew up in the Jim Crow south and attended the University of Mississippi at the height of the civil rights movement. Thanks to an amazing progressive 6th grade schoolteacher in 1960, I learned about the evils of slavery and how racial segregation in America needed to be eliminated. It was at this early age that I, a shy, white girl from rural Alabama developed a passion for racial and social justice. This led me to majoring in sociology and social work for my B.A. and MSW, respectively, and my lifelong work to reduce or ease the impact of educational, economic, and health disparities that impact people of color. Disparities that, unfortunately, persist today.

Richard and I decided we wanted to endow a scholarship fund at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) to do our part in addressing the disparities that people of color have endured for centuries. Believing in reparations for the sins of slavery that privileged our ancestors, we decided we could not wait for our government leaders to do the right thing. Richard and I concluded we could do our small part for reparations by making higher education accessible to students of color from low-income backgrounds. We understand that education leads to greater economic opportunities which can reduce the wealth gap between white and black America. We began exploring HBCUs around the country.  After twenty-one years, we now call Delaware home and decided it was important to use our resources to make a difference in Delaware. After our research and conversations with the university’s planned giving staff, we chose to establish an endowed scholarship at Delaware State University (DSU) to benefit students living where we call home. 

And what led you to select Delaware State University to benefit from your support?

Janet: There were several factors that convinced us that DSU is the right choice-

  • Under the leadership of Dr. Tony Allen, DSU is making great strides in expanding its facilities/campuses and its academic offerings such as acquiring Wesley College to create an integrated College of Health and Behavioral Sciences.
  • Donors with deeper pockets than ours recognize the achievements of DSU, e.g., MacKenzie Scott’s donation of $20 million in December 2020 and more recently, Capital One’s donation of its historic office building in downtown Wilmington.
  • Dr. Allen’s decision to use some of the MacKenzie Scott donation to expand scholarship opportunities for students.
  • Roughly fifty percent of the students are Delaware residents.
  • Most students are recipients of financial aid thus enabling people from low-income families to access higher education.
  • The recently developed Global Institute for Equity, Inclusion, and Civil Rights, an institute designed to build the capacity toward an inclusive economy is one of many mechanisms that can be used to correct the economic disparities experienced by people of color.

Please tell us about Dorothy Walden Tillman, the woman who you’ve named the fund for.

Janet: The endowed scholarship is named for my mother, Dorothy Walden Tillman, who did not have the opportunity to go to college. She was born in 1922 and followed in the footsteps of the women before her who married right out of high school and started a family. It was years later that I learned she would have liked to have gone to college. In fact, she would have liked to become a lawyer, but did not see how college could fit into her life as a wife and mother in rural Alabama. 

My mother was a loving, gentle person who never taught me to think of myself as being better than anyone else because I was white. My mother always encouraged my sister and me to excel at school and she made sure we went to college to pursue a career. She was progressive, for the times, in her views on civil rights and treated all people with kindness and respect. She died too young at age 73. It is in her memory that the Dorothy Walden Tillman Endowed Scholarship was established.

Is there a message you’d like to share with people who are considering making a gift to an organization they care about?

Janet: For those who have not decided how to share their financial resources, I have a few tips for you:

  • Ask yourself, “Does my family really need to receive all of our estate once we are gone?”
  • Reflect on your values and what is important to you in making the world a better place now and into the future.
  • Consider how your resources can help correct an injustice.
  • Explore how your resources can empower people to achieve their highest potential.
  • Consider an endowed scholarship so the funds can grow and be utilized in perpetuity. 
  • Endowing a scholarship means students can benefit while you are still alive and do not have to wait until you die.

To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The highest use of capital is not to make more money but to make money to do more for the betterment of life.”