Personal Giving Stories
Years after surviving Nazi concentration camps, Tadeusz Debski was earning his Ph.D. at UIC with the help of a Polish history scholarship endowed anonymously in 1995 by Romuald Hejna, a history teacher and lover of Poland. At a recognition dinner, Debski expressed tremendous gratitude for his benefactor. A private and unassuming man, Hejna quietly sat inches away.
Thirteen years later, Hejna, upon his passing, left the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) a $10 million bequest through his estate, the second-largest gift from an individual in UIC’s history. The funds will establish two chairs in the history of Poland and one chair in Polish language and literature.
“Mr. Hejna’s gift has ensured not only that the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will remain on the map for Polish Studies—so vital already in Chicago with its storied and strong connections to Poland—but also that UIC will become a beacon for scholars who wish to research and teach in this specialization,” says Dwight A. McBride, dean of LAS.
The profound impact of Hejna’s contribution is exemplary of a bequest’s potential to create brilliant futures. It not only honors Hejna’s passions and preserves them in his legacy, but will also attract accomplished and renowned intellectuals to fill the three chairs. Additionally, because Hejna’s gift was free from taxation, the full amount was preserved to support the Hejna chairs.
Chicago-born Hejna attended the University of Illinois at the Navy Pier campus before earning a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He found a thriving Polish community at UIC, where his enthusiasm and passion for Poland and Chicago were matched. Hejna’s generous bequest gave chances to many students, and his significant bequest ensures chances for many more.
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