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Quiet Champion of Service

November 2013 | by Craig DeVrieze


Jane Folwell spent decades working behind the scenes in the halls of the US Congress. She then devoted another 40 years to quietly serving her native Quad Cities as an active volunteer and earnest philanthropist.

Those two very distinct chapters of a proud life of service seamlessly came together in 2001 when Jane Folwell generously endowed the first academic chair in St. Ambrose University history.

Today, the Frank and Jane Folwell Chair in Political Science and Pre-Law at SAU is among 15 endowed funds targeted to enhance academic programs and study opportunities at St. Ambrose.

And when Jane Folwell died in May at the age of 88, she left behind a perfect template for other dedicated and generous St. Ambrose donors to follow, said Bill Parsons, PhD, a professor of political science and leadership studies who has occupied the Folwell chair for the past nine years.

"You couldn't ask for a better example of what the perfect philanthropist would be for our university," said Parsons. "The one thing I will miss the most is that our students from here on won't have the opportunity to meet her."

Folwell stepped up quickly when Steve Goebel, former assistant to the president for planned and deferred giving at St. Ambrose, presented a plan to endow five academic chairs in ways that would honor the life of SAU's namesake saint.

"She said ‘Steve, I would like to be the first to endow one of these chairs and I would like to do it in political science because that is the one nearest to my heart," Goebel recalled.

Folwell, who was recognized with an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree from St. Ambrose in May of 2001, began her life in public service as a legislative aide in Des Moines. She went to the nation's capital in 1951 to work on the staff of Iowa Republican Sen. Bourke Hickenlooper.

She subsequently worked for several legislators, before retiring in 1972 as the office manager for the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. While in Washington DC, Folwell met and married Robert Borth, a powerful lobbyist. They retired together to her native Davenport.

Following Borth's death, she married well-known QC retailer Frank Folwell, an active civic volunteer and philanthropist. The Folwells were annual donors to St. Ambrose for years, but Jane Folwell became more involved with the university following Frank's death in 1997, Goebel said.

She was a member of the Planned Giving Advisory Council when she came forward to endow the Folwell Chair. "She said, ‘Steve, I just feel St. Ambrose is of a stature now that it should have an endowed chair,"' Goebel recalled.

Parsons said Folwell was an interested but unobtrusive partner in planning the programming her endowment funded. "It was collaborative but she was not one to say, ‘This is what you have to do,"' he said.

The endowment has funded the Mock Trial and Model UN teams at St. Ambrose and it has helped Parsons and other faculty build student internships through area law firms and political office holders. It also created the annual Folwell Lecture Series, which brings top speakers to campus to address relevant issues of the day.

Jane Folwell attended each of the Folwell lectures, as well as a pre-event dinner with the speaker and a select group of students, until a few years ago, when her health began to decline.

At the first such dinner in 2003, Jennifer (Kislia) Kincaid '03 witnessed a memorable conversation between Folwell and the inaugural series speaker, former Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice and SAU Board of Trustee emeritus Linda Neuman, JD.

As the two women discussed the challenges of "trying to break through the glass ceiling" in male-centric professions, Kincaid sensed in Folwell a dignified pride in both her early professional accomplishments and her later efforts to enhance the community.

"She just had a quiet poise about her," said Kincaid, an attorney in Silvis, Ill. "I don't think she lauded her accomplishments. She let them speak for themselves."

Parsons said Folwell had a front-row seat to significant moments in history during her time in the nation's capitol.

"You're going through the aftermath of World War II, the Cold War, the Sixties, Vietnam and Watergate," he said. "She was part of all that and came through seeing the value of public service, genuinely and rightly so.

"Truly, she was part of that Greatest Generation, for whom serving your country in these capacities was second nature. You're supposed to do it, and I think her interest in this endowment was in hope that students would see the same value."

Many have, including Miles Chiotti '11, who participated in the Mock Trial and Model UN programs. Chiotti went on to obtain his Master of Public Administration degree from American University in Washington DC, where he also spent 18 months working for John Deere Public Affairs Worldwide in their DC office.

"As someone who went straight out of St. Ambrose into a master's program at a top 10 school, I certainly was well-prepared," he said. "The instruction and the resources provided by the Folwell endowment were certainly helpful in that."

Endowed Academic Programs
Some examples of endowed academic programs at SAU

  • Baecke Endowment for the Humanities — A gift from Albert and Rae Marie DeJonghe Baecke has supported education in the humanities since 1981. It provides annual grants for faculty research and supports an annual lecture series.
  • Kokjohn Endowment for Catholic Peace and Justice — Established in 2007 from a donation by Rev. Joseph E. Kokjohn '50, PhD, the endowment supports visiting scholars, teaching, research and service activities committed to the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and peace and justice.
  • Hauber Endowment for Biology — Established in 1975 in honor of Msgr. U.A. Hauber, SAU's fifth president and a well-known teacher of biology, this endowment supports the annual Hauber Biology Lecture.
  • Geiger Endowment for History — The endowed lecture series was funded by alumni in honor of retiring history professor Richard E. Geiger in 2001. This endowment funds lectures, history activities and study abroad trips.

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