by Pamela Young, Published June 21, 2011
YPSILANTI - Philanthropists William (Bill) and Delores (Dee) Brehm have long had a vision to help children with special needs in new and creative ways. Now they are collaborating with Eastern Michigan University to further that goal by donating $3.2 million to Eastern's College of Education, the largest gift in the University's history.
The donation will be used to establish the Delores Soderquist Brehm Center for Special Education Scholarship and Research and to fully endow programs that they have been supporting for several years on an annual basis. The gift was announced at the EMU Board of Regents meeting June 21.
"This generous gift will move Eastern's nationally-known special education department forward into new areas," said Roy Wilbanks, chair of the Board of Regents. "There is a great need for outstanding special education teachers, so the Brehms' donation and efforts on behalf of our students come at a critical time."
"It's a joy to see Dee and Bill Brehms' personal interest and love for the Brehm scholars, and the faculty who work in developing these students into caring teachers and leaders who understand and perform research in special education," said Susan Martin, president of Eastern Michigan. "Their donation of more than $3 million to establish a permanent endowment, on top of their generous support of more than $1 million in the past, ensures this work continues in the future. This is a couple who gives with their heart to support students and special education research."
The goal is to train special education professionals and researchers who will lead the way in supporting people with disabilities, said Dee Brehm, herself a graduate of Eastern's special education program. "These students will transform special education through their research, and their leadership in schools and other institutions."
"Eastern Michigan University's program has a great reputation and this donation is something that we have pondered for some time, in consultation with the University," Bill Brehm said. "Donors want to ensure that their investment in projects will make a difference. Eastern worked closely with us, and took our ideas seriously. Our objective is to help the Special Education training program encompass a research track that would involve both students and faculty, working together.
The new center will be housed within the Department of Special Education, bringing four programs together under one roof. The center will fully endow:
Dee Brehm says the special education field has changed dramatically since she graduated from Eastern Michigan.
"Two weeks after graduation, Bill and I were married and moved to San Diego," she said. "Bill started a career in the aerospace industry there, and I taught special education in the public school system. I was isolated in a temporary classroom, with no assistance. I was with my 15 students (the maximum allowed then) for the entire day, including lunch and recess. I attended city-wide conferences on special education, but was disappointed to find that the meetings focused almost exclusively on exceptionally bright children. Little was said about children with disabilities."
"Special education is a challenging field, and always is seen as a definite calling by our Scholars," Dee says. The Brehms envision that the Delores Soderquist Brehm Center will stimulate new ideas and understanding about the profession and continue to add to the education of future education leaders.
In addition to the $3.2 million donation, the Brehms also have donated $115,000 to complete their endowment for the John Barson Fellowship in Public Administration.
This Fellowship provides tuition support for one year, up to ten credit hours per semester, for a graduate student enrolled in the public administration program within the Department of Political Science. It honors their longtime friend and Eastern alumnus, Dr. John Barson, who died in 2006.
A renowned educational consultant in medicine, Barson was founding president of the Oklahoma College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery. He was known for his efforts to promote effective administration and efficiency and for applying public administration skills to health care and higher education. Dr. Barson earned his bachelor's degree from Eastern Michigan University, and a master's degree and Ed.D from Wayne State University.
"Our friendship ranged over 60 years," Bill Brehm said. "He was a great citizen and a great friend."