Robert Kuhns ’67 and Barbara Swanson Kuhns ’66 believe in "paying it forward." By making Millikin the owner of a life insurance policy, the Kuhns are ensuring that future students will have the educational opportunities they themselves treasure.
"Our experience at Millikin could perhaps be likened to a second home and family," says Barb. "The university environment provided for our needs while we were growing into adults.
"As a freshman, I came to Millikin with a locally-awarded full scholarship. Imagine my dismay when, just months later, Dean Byron Kerns called me into his office and informed me that no funds were available in my award. I was the oldest of nine children raised on a marginal farm operation. Aware of my situation, Dean Kerns offered a full Millikin scholarship I could keep as long as my grades remained good. Had he not done so, I would have gone home.
"At the beginning of my junior year, Bob and I decided to get married the following June. I sewed my wedding dress in the home economics department, using a machine when it was available.
"After our wedding, I had my senior year to go and Bob had two years left. Once again Millikin came through, hiring Bob as the residence director for Macon Hall. This provided room and board for us right across the street from campus. Nothing was ever said about our pet beagle, although it was no secret because he went to all of the home football games wearing his little blue and white sweater.
"After accepting that we would not have children, I decided to pursue my dream occupation – veterinary medicine.
I graduated from Iowa State 10 years after my Millikin graduation."
Bob came to Millikin from Hinsdale, Ill., to study music, meeting Barb at Millikin’s Freshman Camp. Barb, a camp counselor, first met Bob and a friend of his during evening camp activities. Having made a breakfast date with Bob’s friend, Barb showed up the next morning to find that the friend had decided to sleep in. Bob was there in his place. The rest, as they say, is history.
Bob, a trombone player and singer, graduated with a degree in vocal and instrumental music. During their years in Iowa, Bob taught public school band and voice, continuing to direct elementary and high school bands in the Quad Cities after they returned to Barb’s hometown of Geneseo, Ill. Retiring from education after several years, Bob pursued his longtime interest in piano tuning. He built a thriving business while also working as a mail carrier. His time with the USPS now over, Bob continues to tune pianos and pursue his interest in flying the couple’s Luscombe and Cessna 182 airplanes.
"The professors left a lasting impression on us," Bob says about Millikin. "They have remained spiritual and personal mentors over my entire life. They were like family to Barb and to me."
Bob serves as president of a local nonprofit charitable foundation, "GIFT" (Geneseo Is For Tomorrow), a subsidiary of the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend. Through the Foundation and in their hometown, Bob and Barb have made many gifts, including support for church missions and scholarships for high school students.
They have established a donor-advised fund with the Community Foundation
to continue their charitable legacy. The fund’s logo, which they designed, features a cross with an arrow pointing to the future, affirming their belief that all blessings come from God, and that they should bless others by paying their gifts forward.
"The best gift we received from Millikin was meeting each other," Bob says. "But we also received an excellent education and were surrounded by caring people. I hope that our gift to Millikin will provide this experience, and more, to students in the future."