UIC Receives $10 Million Gift for Polish Studies

Sep 11, 2008 08:00 AM

A $10 million gift to the University of Illinois at Chicago to enhance studies in Polish history, language and literature will transform the study of that country and its culture in the city with the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw.

The donation, a bequest from the late Romuald Hejna, is the second-largest gift from an individual that UIC has ever received and the biggest single gift to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Hejna’s bequest will create two chairs in the history of Poland and one chair in Polish language and literature.

“Mr. Hejna’s gift has ensured not only that the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will remain on the map for Polish Studies—so vital already in Chicago with its storied and strong connections to Poland—but also that UIC will become a beacon for scholars who wish to research and teach in this specialization,” said Dwight A. McBride, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“He has left an enduring legacy, and in doing so, has given the college a legacy to nurture in the creation of the Hejna Chairs.”

The Chicago-born Hejna attended the University of Illinois at Navy Pier for two years. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was a member of the French Club, the Polish Club, the Russian Club and the Navy Pier Alumni Association.

Hejna, a former public school history teacher, amassed his personal wealth through a variety of stock holdings. He took great pride in his dedicated study of the market and routinely attended shareholder meetings of the companies in his portfolio.

He traveled often to Poland to explore his deep interest in Polish and European cultural arts. Despite leading a private life, he was active in Chicago’s Polish community.

He was a life member of the Polish Museum of America, which granted him the Polish Heritage Award in 2006 for his support of the museum. His other cultural memberships included the Polish Falcons of America, the Polish American Congress and the Polish Military History Society of America.

Since 1995, Hejna made multiple gifts to UIC totaling nearly $500,000 for an endowed scholarship in the history of Poland to the history department as well as a chair in the history of Poland.

Consistent with this lifestyle and selfless nature, Hejna requested anonymity in his support of UIC until his death in July.

“Ron Hejna had tremendous compassion and warmth—a really big heart,” said Carla Knorowski, formerly of the college’s advancement office, who worked closely with Hejna. “He wasn’t interested in building a legacy to himself. He passionately wanted to give people the opportunity to learn about Polish history, language and literature.”

With more than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students, Liberal Arts and Sciences is UIC’s largest college. It comprises 22 departments and programs and offers more than 60 undergraduate major fields of specialization, 40 minors, nearly 50 graduate degrees at the masters and doctoral levels and more than 1,100 courses. The college features programs in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. For more information about UIC, please visit www.uic.edu.

Brian Flood
(312) 996-7681