The late Jonathan Ryan Lee (right) vacationing with his life partner, Roy Lee, for their 30th anniversary.
Jonathan Ryan Lee saw the world through the eyes of an artist. Although Type 1 diabetes threatened his eyesight as early as graduate school, he never let the condition limit his artistic vision. When the creative and brilliant young man turned his eye toward Northern Illinois University, the picture he painted was vivid of his home away from home.
Jonathan's time at Northern inspired a lifelong career in the arts, which is why his life partner, Roy Lee, chose to honor his memory by establishing the Jonathan Ryan Lee Studio Art Scholarship Fund at NIU in 2013.
Known as Jonathan Boyd Brandon during his years at NIU, the budding artist came to campus as a transfer student from Joliet Junior College. Well-read in the arts and literature, Jonathan acclimated quickly and eventually earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Northern.
Jonathan's studio at the NIU Art Annex featured a variety of works he completed at NIU. While oils were his go-to medium for years, he later branched out to create statement pieces and the print became his medium of choice.
Professors in the School of Art continued to be a source of inspiration for Jonathan after graduation. He and Roy lived in a lovely old two-story building at Bridge and Van Emmon streets in Yorkville. They built an art gallery on the first floor, and NIU art professors used the gallery space for exhibits.
Dorothea Bilder, emeritus professor of the NIU School of Art and chair of Jonathan's Master of Fine Arts committee, exhibited her work in the couple's gallery.
"He loved to host exhibits. He had a natural way with people and loved engaging in conversation," she says, adding that it made him a great host.
Jon always loved people and was known for his "gift of gab." In fact, he made friends and collectors of the medical team at Hauser-Ross Eye Institute, who treated him while he was a graduate student. Friends recall he was surprised and quite pleased when Drs. Lynn E. Hauser and Neil L. Ross, both art lovers, came to his master's show and purchased three pieces.
Art wasn't Jonathan's only creative outlet. He was also a writer. He focused on poetry and wrote and illustrated children's books. Under his pen name Holland Cedric Peyton, he authored the influential book Till Death Do Us Part: A Look Inside Long-Term Gay Relationships.
Jonathan eventually lost his eyesight and learned he had advanced stage cancer in early 2011. He died in June of that year.
"He was a strong person and was always the life of the party," Roy recalls. "He was very honest and was always concerned about everyone else."
To this day, Jonathan's compassion lives on through his scholarship fund at Northern. First-year graduate students seeking a master's degree in studio art are eligible for the award. To date, three students have already benefited from Jonathan and Roy's generosity.
If you can, give," Roy says. "It makes a positive impact on people's lives and promotes the visual arts, which most of us really enjoy. It's a great way to not only honor Jon's life, but also to thank the university for giving him those great years."
You can change a life with your support and you don't even have to give up assets today. Contact Judy M. Schneider at 815-753-1389 to learn more.