Some of the most important lessons in life aren't taught in the classroom. Linda Sorrells learned the value of giving and philanthropy from her parents and aunt. Linda remembers her father, Rolla Sorrells, graciously helping neighbors with everything from plumbing problems to fixing a broken lawnmower. Her mother, Christine Six Sorrells, and aunt, Sylvan Six, also served as role models for kindness and generosity, delivering baskets of food to the doorsteps of families in need.
As a teacher in the Physical Education Department at Illinois State, Linda frequently saw students who needed help getting by, whether it was gas money to make a trip home or a professional outfit for a job interview. The example her parents and aunt set led her to assist students wherever she could.
"In teaching I often came across students who needed a little extra money to pay for a car repair or something else," Linda said. "I was able to provide funding for people I knew who were having difficulties. I realized that my need to make the contribution came from the culture in which I raised."
Over her career at Illinois State, Linda spent years teaching activity and theory classes in the Physical Education Department before being selected by Illinois State President Lloyd Watkins to create one of the first collegiate employee wellness programs in the nation. Linda's program was received with enthusiasm by the campus community. She and her colleagues shared their findings at conferences with others looking to create similar successful programs.
Since retiring in 1998, Linda has continued to connect with her community and "tithes 10 percent of her time" through high involvement with the food pantry, Bible Study Fellowship, and Faith in Action. In addition, Linda has created the Rolla and Christine Six Sorrells and Sylvan Six Emergency Fund to honor the loving and giving spirit of her parents and aunt. The fund will provide for the unexpected needs experienced by Mennonite College of Nursing students as they pursue their studies.
"I decided the fund would be a great way to honor my folks," Linda said. "So it is done in that spirit with the credit ultimately to God be the glory. But if I hadn't been raised in that family and culture, I wouldn't have thought about how important giving is."
Linda's niece, Ann McCullough, professor at Middle Tennessee State University, was not surprised when she heard that her aunt had created a fund to help students. She knew about Linda's high level of involvement with various charities and had also seen firsthand the challenges students face. Ann hopes to create a similar fund one day for her own students and emphasizes the power of giving no matter what point of life a person might be in.
"I don't think that every gesture needs to be huge," Ann said. "When you're at a point in your life when you are able to do that, that's wonderful, but even for those who aren't, giving just a few dollars or taking an interest in a person who needs help can have an impact. If we all singled out a person in our lives who could use some help, imagine what a different landscape the world would be."
An initial gift from Linda has allowed the fund to begin helping students and she plans to fully fund the endowment within her lifetime. A bequest will make the endowment more robust and ensure that even more students will continue to receive assistance when they need it, well into the future.