At its core, philanthropy is the desire to help others. It is the ability to cause a change to better a circumstance. Motivated by a serving spirit, two Purdue alumnae want to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with them and they are planting the seeds of philanthropy daily by putting the interests of others before their own personal considerations.
A conversation with mother and daughter, Kendra Becker Lewis (LA’70) and Melissa (Missy) C. Lewis (LA’99, MS’03) is rich with excitement – palpable, infectious and genuine. One cannot walk away from speaking with either of them, hear their message and not be affected. Their philanthropic roots and love of Purdue run deep. They are clear about their passion and work hard every day to translate that into their philanthropy.
Kendra, who is director of development for the Alpha Xi Delta Foundation in Indianapolis, Ind. and serving a three-year term on the Purdue Alumni Association Board of Directors, always sought out leadership roles. Joining Alpha Xi Delta in 1968 while at Purdue, she was looking for friendship and leadership opportunities. “Fraternity experience is all about developing women as leaders and furthering their personal growth. So I can say my experiences with Alpha Xi Delta as a student, alumna, volunteer and ultimately professional staffer have truly enriched my life.”
Being involved and engaged in the community is an expectation of fraternity but Kendra already had that covered. “I was not so much dedicated to fraternity involvement because there were many other things in which I did participate,” she explains. She was vice president of the Association for Women Students, an organization offering opportunities for networking, leadership development and being engaged in the Purdue community. “I was also part of Angel Fight, a women's auxiliary to support and promote Air Force ROTC, and it took a lot of my time. One service activity we did was to work in the press box during Purdue football games. We helped the reporters and whoever else was up there with whatever they needed to have done.”
“My Purdue experience is really one that helped frame my life. As a student, I lived for my Mortar Board to be filled with appointments, whether that was sporting events, leadership organization meetings or classes,” she continues. “I believe that set the stage for the rest of my life. I had so many wonderful opportunities at Purdue and I’ve done my best to continue living my life that same way – balanced and full – and I credit Purdue for helping lead me in that direction.”
Born to Tim Lewis (M’70) and Kendra, Missy is a fourth generation Boilermaker and proud of her heritage. Director of Membership & External Affairs at the Indiana Academy of Family Physicians in Indianapolis, Ind., she spends much of her days planning conferences and events, working with medical students and family practice, and serving as an advocate and spokesperson for public health. “It is incredibly satisfying and rewarding to do something that helps people in a significant way or solves a tough problem,” she shares. Like her mother, Missy always knew she wanted to be in a leadership role. On a campus as large as Purdue, she went in search of a smaller family unit in which to be involved and she found it with Delta Zeta. “My grandmother and mother were in sororities while in college so it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t try it. It’s just what you did when you went to college,” Missy says “I saw how involved they were and recognized the friendship and leadership opportunities that it offered. I felt I needed more than a college degree to be successful and being an active leader is key to that success.”
While at Purdue for graduate school Missy served as chapter advisor and after graduation served as the person who oversaw advisors for Indiana chapters. She continues to stay involved with Delta Zeta and with the Purdue Alumni Association.
Because of their Purdue experiences, and being firm believers in learning and leadership beyond the classroom, Kendra and Missy both felt called to do something at Purdue. They decided to create a scholarship to honor Kendra’s late mother, Phyllis Jean Becker but when they heard about the Indiana Challenge Match recognized they could create two scholarships and help even more students.
Missy shares, “I was fortunate enough to not have to worry about paying for college like many students but as a chapter advisor, I saw how some of them struggled and recognized how every little bit of money they could get was helpful.”
“In the end, we both really wanted to be attached to our scholarship as a way to encourage others to do something similar,” Missy explains. And she continues: “Most importantly, I want others to see that they can give back to Purdue too. I want everyone to see it as something very attainable.”
“Giving is a very joyful experience,” states Kendra. “In fact, my heart was racing when I wrote my check. I was so excited and had so much joy! I can’t wait to learn about the young people who will benefit from this.”
The only restriction each woman has put on their scholarship is for it to go to the most deserving of Liberal Arts students. “In my work, too many times I see a scholarship go unawarded because of the criteria-limited candidate pool. That’s always terribly disappointing to me,” explains Kendra. “It gives me great joy to make this opportunity available to someone who needs and deserves it.”
Fundraising consultant Douglas M. Lawson, Ph.D., who wrote Give to Live: How Giving Can Change Your Life, put it best, “We exist temporarily through what we take, but we live forever through what we give.”
Both women embrace this as easily as they take in breath. They have given their lives to service to others, in just about every sense of the word. Their idea of service influences everything they do, from how they treat their family, friends and colleagues, to their financial commitments to philanthropy. But for these two Boilermakers, it is about more than the money they have committed; it is how they personally commit themselves to so many people. Each has done a lot of giving in their times and go quietly about their loyal service to their community, their sororities and their own Purdue. Kendra met her husband, Tim, while they were both attending Purdue and Tim’s father, Forrest W. Lewis, Jr., is also an alumnus (AAE’49). “Purdue is just a family affair for us. We’ve gotten so much out of it and we enjoy Purdue events together,” she states. “We are just so proud of Purdue University. Every opportunity available for us to ensure loyalty lives here, we’re there!”
Like Brett Westcott and Cameron Brown (aka the Purdue Compliment Guys), whose passion and only mission was to provide goodwill to anyone who crossed their path, Kendra and Missy Lewis – two everyday philanthropists – realized you don’t have to be rich to make an impact, you just need passion. And each woman’s philanthropy is leaving a clear impression upon those it touches.
The most powerful philanthropists are those with passion and personal commitment behind their giving. When asked about her passions at Purdue, Missy states, “My passion is not about anything specific at Purdue. My passion IS Purdue.”