Stan Ikenberry recalls a favorite memory of Mabel Beckman, from when he and his wife, Judy, were visiting Arnold and Mabel Beckman in California in the 1980s.
“I must have looked discouraged or wilted in the California heat,” he said. “Mabel walked up to me, put her arm around my shoulder and said, ‘Don't worry, Stan, I've read all the proposals and Illinois’ is best.’”
Mabel was talking about other prestigious universities sending their ideas to the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. The University of Illinois’ proposal asked the Beckmans for the eventual $40 million gift to build the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology in Urbana.
Stan and Judy Ikenberry, former president and first lady of the University of Illinois from 1979-95, recently made a significant financial gift to the Beckman Café Renovation fund. They see it as an investment in keeping Illinois and the Beckman Institute the best, as Arnold and Mabel Beckman envisioned.
The Beckman Institute is in the middle of a $2 million campaign to completely modernize the Beckman Café. Beckman was specifically designed to bring together researchers from varying disciplines, from bioengineering to psychology, linguistics to chemistry, and more.
The founding of the Beckman Institute was “arguably the most important thing that happened on the Urbana-Champaign campus during the latter part of the 20th century,” Ikenberry said. “It lifted the campus to a whole new level and gave us a new national stature. It changed the physical face of the campus and the culture of the campus.”
The Beckman Café offers a place for researchers, students, and staff members to connect, exchange ideas, and build bridges.
This concept made Judy Ikenberry especially excited about a total renovation for the café, which will offer a more accessible layout, better seating, and a revitalized food and coffee menu.
“I have always believed that many wonderful ideas come out of social conversations and because I was particularly interested in the social side of the University of Illinois, this is a gift that appealed to me very much,” she said. “I can just envision the people who work together at Beckman: A good cup of coffee and a good conversation about important things will stimulate their minds when they go back to their offices and labs. This is where good things happen.”
Stan Ikenberry agreed.
“Interpersonal contact is so essential both for science and for human relationships, generally,” he said. “The café allows people to come together over a cup of coffee or a sandwich, but also inevitably ask questions and share ideas to agree and disagree over. That’s what universities are all about.”
He sees the gift as showing the Ikenberrys’ confidence in the evolving power of interdisciplinary research.
“There is no better investment than the Beckman Institute,” he said. “It's part of the hope for the future. It's a place where scholars can come to develop their careers, but more importantly, where students can come to find a whole new vision for what they want to be and what they want to do with their lives. There's nothing more important, the next generation and the generation following. That's right at the core of what the Beckman Institute does.”
Beckman Institute Director Jeff Moore, the Stanley O. Ikenberry Endowed Chair and professor of chemistry, said he’s grateful for the Ikenberry family’s leadership and generosity.
“Now, more than ever, we need to bring people together,” Moore said. “There’s only so much a virtual lunch will get you. You can’t share the same experience with someone unless you’re physically together. I can’t wait to see the Beckman Café buzzing with conversation and new ideas.”