Lester Smith believes in following one's passion—in his case, for the fine arts. In 2004, Lester established two scholarship endowments for the College of Visual and Performing Arts—one for art and the other for music. Recently, he included these endowments in his estate plan, ensuring that students will be helped in perpetuity.
"Lester's extreme generosity in creating endowed scholarships has helped many art and music students to pursue their dream of earning an NIU degree," says Rich Holly, Dean, College of Visual and Performing Arts. "His gifts show Lester's love and dedication to the arts. Students will feel the impact of his scholarship funds forever."
The Road to NIU
As a young student, Lester liked to draw. After high school, he learned to be a draftsman and went to work as a tool designer in an aircraft subassembly factory. After World War II ended in 1945, Lester enrolled at California State University–San Diego and earned a bachelor's degree in art (studio arts and interior decoration). He worked as an interior designer until he was drafted into the Army during the Korean War.
After returning home, he learned that he had contracted tuberculosis while in Korea and spent nine months in a VA hospital. Entitled to receive further education, Lester decided to become a librarian and pursued studies at the University of Southern California. He then returned to San Diego State and worked as a librarian for 10 years. Granted a fellowship, he returned to USC to earn a doctorate in librarianship with a minor in art history.
"My Favorite Part"
Lester arrived at NIU in 1973 as the associate director of Founders Memorial Library. "I've been very fortunate in life to be at the right place with the right credentials," he says. In time, Lester became the arts and humanities specialist at the library. "My favorite part of the position was working with students."
Through the Lester K. Smith Endowed Creative Art Scholarship and the Lester K. Smith Creative Music Scholarship, he will be able to help students for years to come. Each fund provides two scholarship awards each year to benefit advanced undergraduate and graduate students in art and music.
"Receiving the Smith Music Scholarship has allowed me to play more with NIU ensembles on campus and not worry about taking on outside work," says Martha Robinson, a recent recipient.
As a music and arts aficionado, how perfect that he can sit back and enjoy the creative work of students who, like him, are following their passions, and help make their dreams come true.