two people riding bikes on a dirt road

"It Felt Right to Give Back"

RST E-News October 2021

head shot of Joan BraswellIt has been more than 50 years since Belleville, IL, native Joan Braswell graduated from what was then the Department of Recreation, but she remembers the education and support she received at Illinois with great fondness. Now, she hopes to provide support to others by endowing the Joan Braswell Scholarship in the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism.

“I am so thankful for all I learned and was able to experience at such a great university,” she said. “The professors were very helpful in my growth as an individual, and I thought the department was outstanding. It felt right to give back.”

Charles Brightbill served as department head when Joan was on campus, and toward the end of her studies, Joseph Bannon joined the department as the director of the Office of Recreation and Park Resources. As an undergraduate student, she completed an internship with three country clubs in the communities of Glen Ellyn and Wheaton, working special events and teaching swimming, tennis, and archery. She also worked for a time in Ohio for the Columbus Parks Department, which she describes as a progressive department that oversaw 99 playgrounds and 20 recreation centers.

After graduating, she attended the annual conference of the National Park and Recreation Association, where she secured a position as recreation supervisor for the city of Bellevue, Washington. She held the position for more than five years, leaving it to pursue her master’s degree in recreation and leisure studies at San Jose State University in California. She completed her degree in 1976 and stayed with the department for three more years, teaching classes in program planning, leadership, and supervision of employees and supervising the internship program.

Although the department encouraged her to stay on for her PhD, Joan needed a change of pace. She went to work in Silicon Valley, eventually taking a leadership role in facilities at Samsung. After more than 20 years on the west coast, she returned to Belleville to help take care of her mother. She purchased and completely restored a home in the city’s historical district, even auditing classes in construction at the local community college so she could manage the project. She joined an a cappella singing group and became a board member of the Belleville Historical Society.

“My interest in recreation started at a very young age and has always been part of my life,” she said. “I continue to be active with swimming, and I got back into tennis at the age of 75.”

The Joan Braswell Scholarship will support undergraduate students in RST, with preference given to students studying Recreation Management. Jean Driscoll, assistant dean for advancement in the College of Applied Health Sciences, notes that a college education requires a significant investment of funds to which young adults may not always have access.

“Alumni and donors who provide endowed scholarships allow new generations of students to focus more on their studies and less on how they’re going to pay for their tuition,” she said. “Donors like Joan Braswell help our current and future students get a start on life and their future careers, much as they did at the University of Illinois.”

In addition to the scholarship, Joan made a donation to support classroom needs in the building she still calls Huff Gym, the site of many of her own undergraduate classes. We are deeply appreciative of Joan’s support, and proud that this department made such a positive impact on her life.