Steve and Lori Eslary have Fulfilled Their Philanthropic Dream of Helping Students and CLAS
Steve Eslary has a perspective on CU Denver that very few people have: he is an alumnus of both the bachelors and masters programs in Political Science, a former employee with almost a decade of service to the university, and now a substantial donor. He and his wife of 42 years, Lori, created the George and Mary Hermosillo Memorial Scholarship Fund in 2009 to honor Lori's parents and have since extended their generosity to support the CLAS Dean's Fund for Excellence.
Lori and Steve Eslary met in 1967, when Steve was still in the Air Force. They locked eyes at a USO dance at Lowry Air Force Base, and as Steve remembers it, "I was in the balcony, and I looked down and saw her standing there. I decided to go down and introduce myself, and when we caught sight of each other, at nineteen years of age, that was pretty much the beginning of a life-long relationship.... We have been a team all these years and have developed both political and social world views together, continually refining them up until this day."
Steve's experiences with CU Denver began in 1972, the same year their daughter, Gina, was born. He describes himself as a "non-traditional student"—but his story will resonate with many students on the campus today. "I was coming out of the Air Force, and I was taking one class at a time, when I could, piecemeal," he said. "I was finally able to graduate with a BA in Political Science in 1996. That's the year I started working for the university, in the registrar's office. I started my master's program immediately, and that took five years. Once again, I did it one class at a time."
Meanwhile, Steve transferred to a job in the Office of International Education and enjoyed helping students from all over the world become acclimated to the United States. Lori remembers, "We would go and pick students up from the airport when they arrived, and we would develop friendships with them. We learned so much from those times, and all the students we met. It made me feel so young!" Steve agrees, "We had a wonderful five years there."
In 2002, Steve transferred to the Ethnic Studies program because the mission of the program resonated strongly with his own beliefs. Donna Martinez (previously Langston), director of the program, says, "Steve Eslary was the first hiring choice I made at CU Denver. I am in awe of the sacrifices Steve has made throughout his life—as a veteran, as a founding member of Ethnic Studies, and now with his commitment to provide scholarships to generations of Ethnic Studies students. Ethnic Studies treasures his legacy of service and sacrifice. Steve is a role model worth emulating, a giving person who lives wisely and earnestly."
Steve helped organize the first Ethnic Studies Open House, and it was there in 2002 that the Eslarys met Joseph Ben Trujillo. Trujillo had established a scholarship in the department 15 years prior, and Steve remembers, "Donna tasked me with tracking down Ben—the department had lost contact with him—so that we could honor him that year. As the program assistant in the office, I was in charge of the process of getting that scholarship distributed to students, but we didn't know much about him. So I found him, and he came that year, and Lori and I got to talking about him about his life. He was real easy to talk to, and we really marveled at his vision." That conversation inspired Steve: "I thought of how great it would be if Lori and I could do that too." He further credits Cecil Glen, the first chair of the Ethnic Studies program and the originator of the Cecil Glenn Book Scholarship, as a great source of support and inspiration.
After his retirement, through meetings with the CU Foundation, Lori and Steve discovered a way to make that dream a reality. In the spring of 2009, using investments in life insurance policies, they established the George and Mary Hermosillo Memorial Scholarship Fund to honor Lori's parents. George and Mary were the loving parents of nine children. They were married for 60 years and lived and worshipped in the North Denver Area. Mary was born in 1922 in Lawrence, Kansas and passed away in 1999. George was born in 1920 in Alamogordo, New Mexico and passed away in 2008. They left countless grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren, who benefited from their love, nurturing, and constant support for education. "They were taken out of school to work in the fields," Lori says. "To their children and grandchildren, they couldn't stress enough the value of an education."
The Hermosillo family's emphasis on education made Steve and Lori feel that the most fitting memorial to George and Mary would be establishing an academic scholarship for deserving students in Ethnic Studies. Two to three $500 scholarships are available each year, awarded to student with a 3.0 or higher GPA. Current Student Government Association President Gordon Hamby says, "As a non-traditional student and one of the first recipients of the George and Mary Hermosillo endowment, the award is especially meaningful to me. My CU Denver academic career has been founded in diversity and inclusion, and having the support of Steve and Lori Eslary and the Hermosillo endowment meant that I could continue my work in vital areas of social science and service. Now, as I work through the final year of my undergraduate program, the fullness of my education is coming to fruition and—in harmony with the values of the Hermosillo endowment—I am planning my future career focused on diversity, inclusion, and community building."
Lewis Rodenbaugh, a junior psychology major, agrees: "The Hermosillo Memorial Scholarship has provided me not only financial assistance towards the pursuit of my education, but also an opportunity to feel connected to a culture differing from my own. It has been a humbling and enlightening experience to become a recipient of the Hermosillo's memorial to their parent's lives. The environment that Mary and George Hermosillo provided for their children and grandchildren encompassed values similar to those taught in my household. The emphasis of their teachings focused on family, faith, self-actualization, community involvement, and social equality—all attributes of my grandparents and parents teachings. I am truly honored to forever be a part of this family's beautiful tribute to the vision and values possessed by their remarkable parents. I feel that this scholarship is the Hermosillo family's way of not only memorializing their parent's wonderful contributions but also a message that encourages social equality. As a recipient of their scholarship I feel as if I've become a member of the Hermosillo family."
Once the endowment for the scholarships was secured in perpetuity, the Eslarys decided to continue their philanthropic work by establishing a bequest to benefit the CLAS Dean's Fund for Excellence. "Working at the University, I got to see how big CLAS is and how many important programs there are—mostly through my relationships with other program assistants, talking about all the wonderful things in their own departments," Steve says. "I took advantage of Dean's Fund money to go to a couple Ethnic Studies conferences while I worked there, and I didn't really understand what the fund even was at that time. But those conferences, and that professional development, were so important to me in my job. And now I know that the discretionary fund makes it possible for the Dean to help out not only faculty and students but also staff. This is so very important, in such a variety of ways."
Steve reflects, "Once we had the scholarship established, we wanted to do something in our own name. That's where our focus is now; as modest people, that's our whole focus. When we were able to start funding this, it made us so proud." Both Steve and Lori encourage anyone interested in making a difference through philanthropy to contact the CU Foundation. They credit the Foundation for making it easy to put their money toward something they feel great pride in. Steve makes the point, "Some people will go out and buy a car, a brand new $30,000 car.... But how long is a car going to last? And if instead you take that money and invest it properly, your gift can last forever."
For more information on giving to CLAS and CU Denver, please visit the Foundation website.