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Wendall Hahn: Reducing the Darkness

Wendell Hahn is a special man. He took a moment of deep, wrenching sorrow—the death of his only son, aged 32—and turned it into an outpouring of generosity.

Wendell’s son Stephen Hahn was a reporter for the Springfield Journal-Register when he died at age 32 of a heart attack. “You feel that your heart’s cut right in half,” Wendell says. “But gradually your heart heals.”

To honor their son’s memory, Wendell and his wife Ruth set up a fund to give 32 scholarships to young people involved in scouting, one for each of his son’s years. “It’s a wonderful thing to be able to give,” he says, “to help young people and see them succeed.”

Their goal of 32 scholarships completed, the Hahns next chose three public Illinois universities to support, as well as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America. As Springfield natives, they included UIS in their plans.

“The school has had such a wonderful reputation,” Wendell says. “It’s climbing in the national ratings. It’s a public affairs university with high standards, and now it’s connected to the U of I. All that makes me think it’s one of Springfield’s most valuable assets.”

Their scholarship to UIS, given to a Public Affairs Reporting (PAR) student, continues to honor their son. Under the direction of renowned journalist Charlie Wheeler, the PAR program is a one-year, professionally-oriented master’s degree program. Students become working reporters covering public affairs in its broadest sense — informing readers, listeners and viewers about ongoing events and activities that impact on their daily lives.

“My son knew Charlie Wheeler,” Wendell says. “He’s a terrific man. He told me a number of touching stories about my son. And the PAR program is excellent. Charlies says they get the cream of the crop—terrific young people. So it’s a wonderful journalism program right here in Springfield.”

Wendell has recently added to the scholarship fund in his son’s memory, and when he speaks about the gift, his eyes shine. He and Ruth knew “devastating” sorrow, but it’s clear he genuinely receives pleasure now from helping others and knowing his gifts in support of education are changing lives.

“They say knowledge is power,” he says, “but I would say instead that knowledge is enlightment. We have so much darkness in the world today. With education, we can keep making progress toward reducing the darkness in the world.”