Avi and Elizabeth Bass have long known the power of words to inspire, motivate, educate, and entertain. That's one reason that these NIU retirees, through annual gifts and through bequests in their estate plans, continue to support NIU programs whose words have brought them pleasure—Northern Public Radio, the Lifelong Learning Institute, and the School of Theatre and Dance.
They also have set-up an endowment for Avi's long-time professional home, the journalism program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
"To leave something of yourself in the community a bit longer makes you feel good," Elizabeth says. "It's a way of perpetuating your values and activities."
Elizabeth was an English major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she also earned a master of arts in library science. Avi earned a bachelor of arts in sociology from UW-Madison, a master of science in journalism from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. in mass communications and international relations from the University of Minnesota.
Avi started teaching in NIU's journalism department in 1969. For more than 30 years, he taught newswriting, international communications, and mass media and society. At a time when technology was starting up on campus, Avi was the first in his department to bring the Web into the journalism classroom, having students use early websites to collect information for assignments. Today, he uses the Web as the home for The Grammar Troubleshooter, a guide he developed to help with basic grammar problems.
Long before Politico, at a time when there were very few political websites, Avi created WhiteHouse'96 for the 1996 presidential election. The website was used around the world and cited for excellence by The New York Times. "You could find out almost anything about the election on the site," Avi says. He later rebuilt the site for several more presidential elections.
Through NIU's international programs office, Avi developed and taught overseas summer, for-credit courses on topics such as mass media in Europe, hoping that his students would broaden their world views, as well as learn specifics.
Avi and Elizabeth say that they have been fortunate to travel around much of the United States and overseas. To help students to have such experiences, while expanding their journalistic skills, they have endowed a travel fund for journalism students with NIU. "Every once in a while, there would be a student writing a story who could benefit from being able to travel to interview sources or to attend a workshop or conference," Avi says. "I see the fund as a very useful tool to broaden their reporting or public relations work."
Elizabeth is still active in many community organizations, work that began while their two sons were babies. In particular, she served as president of the DeKalb County League of Women Voters and as a vice president of the Illinois League of Women Voters. She notes that her first professional experiences writing and editing were as an unpaid volunteer. It was that work, however, that created the portfolio that helped her get a job at NIU.
In 1985, Elizabeth went to work for the NIU alumni and development office as the editor and chief writer for Northern Now, NIU's alumni publication. "What I loved about the job was that the whole university was my turf; I might interview a philosophy professor in the morning and the wrestling coach in the afternoon," Elizabeth says. "Once I even interviewed all the Northern graduates in the state legislature." And, she adds, "I got to interview hundreds of fascinating NIU alumni." One of her favorite issues was one with an Olympics theme. The interviews for that issue included one with NIU alum and speed skater Ken Henry, who lit the torch at the Squaw Valley Winter Olympics.
In retirement, as well as traveling, the couple enjoys attending NIU theatre and music events, going to lectures on campus, and participating in the Lifelong Learning Institute, which Elizabeth helped establish. Both are thankful to have been a part of the university community and to now be able to give back to it.
When Avi says, "If there's something you care about—take care of it," Elizabeth quickly adds, "Help take care of it—whether it's with money, time, or talent." Perhaps it is that desire to make things better that drives Avi and Elizabeth to use their estate plans to help the groups about which they so deeply care.