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An inspiration to give back
In 1965, Marge Csakai and Jim Blair took a Creative Writing class at Northeastern Illinois University. The teacher was none other than Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks, who three years later also was appointed poet laureate of Illinois, but that exciting fact is a mere footnote in their family story.
Four years after taking the class together, Marge and Jim were married—and each had earned their degrees. “It was quite an experience,” Jim said. “It was a confluence of important events in our lives.”
In 2016, Jim Blair told that story to hundreds of incoming students during the inaugural Golden Eagle Welcome Day and drew a long “Awwwwwwww!” from the crowd.
“I was surprised by the positive reaction I received from the speech,” Blair said. “It went well and the feedback was really excellent. I actually engaged these students. They listened to what I was saying.”
And what those students heard was not just an “awww”-inspiring love story but also a message of giving back to Northeastern. Blair, who serves on Northeastern’s Alumni Advisory Board, donated $1,000 toward the Class Gift Scholarship Fund, but with an interesting twist.
Part of Blair’s donation was broken into single dollar bills and handed out to the incoming students who attended Golden Eagle Welcome Day on Aug. 20. As the students crossed the Auditorium stage to receive their pins and shake the hands of Northeastern’s leadership, they were encouraged to donate that dollar back. In total, 272 dollar bills were passed out to students, and 295 came back.
“It felt good,” Blair said, “What surprised me was that when I looked in the faces of the students, they felt good about what they were doing and felt that this small but significant gesture made sense.”
Jim (M.A.T. ’68 English, Literature) and Marge (B.A.’67 Elementary Education, Mathematics; M.S. ’69 Mathematics) both went on to teach at Northeastern—Developmental Mathematics for Marge and Communication, Media and Theatre for Jim—but they are not the only members of their family with Northeastern connections.
One of their daughters, Jennifer, now works at Northeastern as a program specialist in the Nontraditional Degree Programs. Naturally, she’s also taking classes and is on the verge of earning her third master’s degree—but her first from Northeastern—in Linguistics. Marge and Jim’s other daughter, Kimberly, also took graduate-level classes at Northeastern and now lives in Michigan.
“The Blair family serves as a wonderful example of the connection our alumni feel after they earn their degrees from Northeastern,” said Jessica Mueller, assistant director of the Office of Alumni Relations. “We look forward to building on this significant connection between alumni and incoming students as we focus on preparing our students to thrive at Northeastern and then as alumni in a global society.”
While Blair also earned degrees from other universities, his heart truly belongs to Northeastern.
“My whole experience at Northeastern has been wonderful,” Jim said. “Northeastern has given me a lot, and I wanted to generate some enthusiasm and give back.”
Top photo: Jim Blair delivers his Golden Eagles Welcome Day speech.