University News

Jim & Betty Garner Alumni Legacy Project

October 3, 2014


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MACOMB, IL -- Susan Wenzel '86 and her husband, Tom, have been searching for a meaningful way to honor her late parents, James R. (Jim) and Betty Garner, since Jim's passing in January.

"They lived such fulfilling lives and did so much for their community and for Western Illinois University," said Wenzel, "I really just want to provide them with a legacy reflective of their values and their lives."

Wenzel learned of the WIU Alumni Legacy Project and knew immediately this was the project she wanted her parents to be associated with.

"Growing up, anyone and everyone was welcome in our home; my parents were very hospitable and social. Naming the Alumni House Expansion – a place to welcome everyone home – for Jim and Betty is perfect," she said.

Jim Garner and Betty Spurgeon met while attending Western Illinois University in the 1940s. Jim's studies were interrupted by World War II service in the Philippines and Japan.

"I read a letter that my mom wrote to my dad in 1945 while she was a student at Western and he was somewhere in the Pacific waiting to invade Japan. Her letter said she was so happy they had decided to ‘go together' on December 19, 1944," Wenzel shared. "That made me realize WIU is the place to honor them, because this is where it all began for them."

Jim returned from the war and he and Betty were married in 1947. Betty completed her degree in English education in 1948, while Jim earned his business and physical education degree in 1950. Jim went overseas again, this time to Korea where he was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.

"I have letters that my dad wrote every day (sometimes twice a day) from Korea, and later while he convalesced in Japan," Wenzel said. "My parents were soul mates and their love and respect for each other set the foundation for our family life."

The Macomb and Western communities knew the Garners as vibrant, active and involved parents and citizens. While Betty devoted her time to her growing family – sons David, John, Joe and daughter Susan – and church, Jim was an agent and manager for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, active member of the WIU Foundation Board and Performing Arts Society, recipient of the "Award of Recognition" presented by Western and Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce and "Distinguished Alumni Award."

Susan and Tom Wenzel's gift in honor of Jim and Betty Garner will fund Phase II of the Alumni Legacy Project (Phase I completed in 2012), improving the front of the Alumni House and grounds, creating better accessibility and more space for activities.

"Tom and I are happy to be able to help Alumni Programs with this enhancement to honor my parents," said Wenzel. "It just feels right that this important campus space, where people will gather and be welcomed back, will carry the names of Jim and Betty Garner."

"We are very grateful for Susan's and Tom's gift," said Vice President for Advancement and Public Services Brad Bainter. "Jim and Betty Garner gave so much to the community and to Western. Their names on the Alumni Legacy Project lend warmth and sincerity to all the future events at the Alumni House."

For more information about the legacy project, visit wiu.edu/alumni/groundsrenovation.php

Posted By: Julie Murphy, WIU Foundation (WIUNews@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations