Local PEO Continues Legacy of Former President with Scholarship

It was late afternoon July 7, 2016 in St. Charles, Illinois and a typical summer day; hot, sunny and dry. Jan Willenborg was on her way to town for a routine medical appointment when she was struck and killed instantly in a tragic car accident. Jan and her husband, Bob, had lived in St. Charles for almost 40 years and raised their three children there. Their daughter, Leigh Ann Kraus, and her family live in Geneva.

Jan was a member and past president of the PEO Chapter OB / St. Charles, Illinois.

PEO provides educational opportunities for women by offering scholarships, grants, awards and loans to help women improve their lives through learning. When news of her death became known, her PEO sisters were stunned and devastated to contemplate the loss of their dear friend.

“It was hard to imagine a reunion without Jan’s smiling face and encouraging words,” said former Chapter OB president Heide Hughes.

Often during the days of her vigil and funeral, the sisters of PEO reflected a lot on what made Jan such an exceptional person. People often commented on how amazingly beautiful Jan was, but her inner and outer beauty were equally equal. Jan was courteous, genuine, kind, supportive, and loved by everyone.

Members continued to keep in touch with Jan’s husband, Bob, through phone calls, often inviting Bob to join other PEO husbands at social gatherings.

“Everyone seemed to get their strength from being together,” said Diane Conn, another Chapter OB member and close friend.

In 2018, Bob Willenborg and his adult children Tim, Leigh Ann and Susan approached Chapter OB with a desire to honor their beloved wife and mother with a memorial scholarship. “We knew how much PEO meant to Jan and the important role he played in his life,” said Bob.

A scholarship committee was formed with a few PEO sisters and family members who came together to establish the qualifications and guidelines that would honor Jan’s memory.

The first PEO Foundation Jan Bateman Willenborg Fellowship was awarded on May 9, 2019 in the auditorium of St. Charles North High School. It was created by Jan’s family to honor a high school graduate, a young local woman who best exemplifies Jan’s spirit. Her family knew how much Jan’s friendships and PEO’s goals meant to her – to promote educational opportunities for women.

The chosen recipient this year is Grace Keane who best represents Jan’s kindness. Her school counselor remarked that “Grace is one of the nicest kids in her class.”

Grace has ambitious plans for the future and wishes to become a pediatric oncologist. She hopes to attend St. Louis University and major in biochemistry in the fall.

The $ 2,000 Jan Bateman Willenborg Scholarship will be a wonderful gift to launch Grace on the path to stargazing, a familiar theme from PEO.

After the presentation at St. Charles North High School Honors Night, Leigh Ann Klaus, Jan’s daughter, presented a lovely gold necklace to remind Grace of the support of the Willenborg family in memory of Jan and the brotherhood of PEO.

Kevin E. Boling

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