Daughter honors parents with scholarship funds
Barbara Coffman, during her childhood, with her parents, Mary and Neal Coffman
Barbara Coffman, during her childhood, with her parents, Mary and Neal Coffman
Barbara Coffman
February 22, 2018

Although they may not have specifically said it, Mary and Neal Coffman pursued the dream of creating a life filled with love and service, according to their daughter Barbara Coffman.


This service to others continues as Barbara has designated a gift in her estate that will establish scholarship funds to honor both of her parents. “My parents went to school during the Depression, so they knew how difficult it was to pay for a college education,” she explains.

Mary and Neal met on a blind date while attending the University of Illinois. By their third date, Neal knew Mary was the one he would marry. They were married 72 years before Mary passed away in 2014.

Mary earned her degree from the University of Illinois in home economics in 1939 and started her career as a home economics teacher. After marrying Neal in 1941, she dedicated herself to family, church, and community. In tribute to this commitment, the Mary E. Coffman Scholarship will support students studying in the Departments of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Human Development and Family Studies, and Agricultural and Consumer Economics.  

“My mother created a strong, happy, loving family, and a beautiful home life,” Barbara says. “She was an excellent cook who believed in fresh, homemade, delicious, and nutritious food. She had a way of creating strong relationships with family and friends.”

Neal spent five years after high school working on the family farm so that his father could take a bookkeeping position to support the family and save their farm during the Depression. The Centennial Farm still remains in the family, and Neal never lost his “farmer gene” and devotion to the land, Barbara says. He earned his undergraduate degree in agriculture in 1941 and became the first in his family to have a college education. He launched a successful career working for Libby, McNeill & Libby, and eventually spent decades working for Campbell Soup Company. He passed away in 2016 at the age of 102.

In recognition of Neal’s commitment to his agricultural roots, the Neal C. Coffman Scholarship will support students in the Departments of Crop Sciences and Animal Sciences.

Barbara’s decision to honor both of them with her inheritance by establishing undergraduate scholarships at their alma mater was a topic the three of them discussed. “They wanted their hard earned savings to do good in the world,” she says. “They both cared deeply about the importance of education and the opportunities it had offered them and could offer others.”

Barbara attended Carleton College and earned a Ph.D. in English Literature at Indiana University. She pursued a career with the Indiana University Foundation. She appreciates that her parents’ names will live on and be associated with helping people for generations to come.


Do you want to know more about planned giving opportunities with the University of Illinois Foundation? Email GPinfo@uif.uillinois.edu, call 217-244-0473, or visit https://uif.giftplans.org/index.php?cID=1.