December 03, 2007

Couple creates scholarship opportunities

by Greg Scott

CARBONDALE, Ill. — It has been 46 years since John Jacques Lambert began attending classes at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. But the Belgian native has never forgotten the opportunities SIUC created for him. And now he and his wife, Elsa, want to return the favor.

John, a native of Belgium and a l963 MBA graduate, and Elsa, from Argentina, both have thrived in the land of opportunity. John J. is director of international operations for Chicago Blower Corp. Elsa has made her mark as president of American-Levant Inc. The Wayne residents have been married for 38 years.

And John said it all started for him at SIUC.

"The knowledge I attained at SIUC has helped me a great deal in my career," he said. "I decided a long time ago that Elsa and I would fund a scholarship for the University whenever we got a little extra money. Therefore, we are making a donation through our will."

The Lamberts are making a seven-figure monetary commitment that will range anywhere from $1 million to $1.5 million for scholarships. Recipients must hail from Southern Illinois and can major in any field of study.

"Many counties in Southern Illinois are economically deprived. We want this scholarship to benefit the recipients who need further assistance in attaining their education," John said. "This is my way of returning the favor. I received help as a student; now I want to assist our current students."

And Elsa supports her husband's wishes.

"I always knew how important this is to John. He is very proud of the education he received at the University and it is my intention to respect his desire," Elsa said. "I'm in full agreement and honor John's wishes."

Rickey N. McCurry, vice chancellor for institutional advancement and CEO of the SIU Foundation, said the University is appreciative of the Lambert's generosity.

"The Lamberts realize that what many of our young people need is for someone to provide them with an opportunity. They have stepped forward in a big way to extend support to our future students," he said. "This is a fine example of a couple who has made the most of the opportunities they have received, and now aspire to assist young people with similar aspirations.

"The Lamberts epitomize what the Opportunity Through Excellence campaign is all about. SIU Carbondale has a history of providing opportunities for people from all walks of life, and the Lamberts are assisting the University in maintaining this long-standing tradition."

John J. Lambert discovered first-hand the importance of a little help. After receiving his undergraduate degree in engineering from Belgium's Louvain University in 1959, John became familiar with SIUC through a fellow countryman who was attending the University and decided to pursue his master's in America.

"My parents said it is a great idea; but you're on your own," Lambert recalls.

Lambert entered the University in 1961 through the exchange program. Once he arrived, the first order of business was to learn the native tongue of his new home country.

"I didn't know English upon my arrival. So I moved into a house of a teacher who had gone on sabbatical, to learn the language (from other students). The first week I learned how to swear and the second week I learned everything about sex," he said with a laugh.

"Afterwards, I became accustomed with the English language I needed to attend the University. I figured moving into the house with American students was the best way to learn."

The SIU Alumni Association life member said funding his education was another matter. He received a scholarship for one quarter that eventually led to his receiving a graduate assistantship from the dean of the foreign language department amounting to $120 monthly. Lambert received the assistantship as a result of a fellow French student in the department falling ill and having to return to France.

"At that point, the dean gave me the assistantship and allowed me to stay as long as necessary," Lambert said "And in addition, I taught French at a school in Sparta through the Adult Education Program, sponsored by the University, to earn additional income. My education helped me a great deal upon graduation. I needed to leave the USA but it became my goal to return to the States. My master's degree opened the door for my first job with IBM and led the way for me living a happy and prosperous life here."

The 71-year old Lambert has also worked at International Harvester, which specialized in agricultural equipment, and at Borg-Warner Corp., where he met Elsa, before moving on to Chicago Blower Corp. He spearheads 22 manufacturing licensees programs overseas.

"My chairman, who is 91 years old, says that as long as I enjoy the job I should continue doing it. I may do it a few more years as my licensees and customers are like family to me."

And the Belgian native sees SIUC in the same light.

"If my money can help students accomplish their goals I consider that to be a wonderful thing. I encourage and hope my fellow alumni will do the same for our students."