Summer 2005

Philanthropist from the Heart

Joan Beran and Laura Bush
Joan Beren ’83 and her daughters were recognized
by Laura Bush in a 2004 speech for their inter-
generational example of commitment to family, faith
and community.

Not many people can say they’ve come up in a speech given by the First Lady of the United States. But Joan Beren ’83 can.

Laura Bush recognized Beren in a speech made at the United Jewish Community’s women’s philanthropy Lions of Judah 2004 International Conference in Washington, D.C.

In her speech, Bush mentioned Beren’s efforts as the first woman president of the Mid-Kansas Jewish Federation, noting specifically her work in registering women voters and quoting Beren as saying, “I live my life by the saying, ‘From those to whom much is given, much is expected.’”

When asked about her philanthropic endeavors, Beren proves reluctant to admit the scope of her activities, but her record speaks for itself.

An abbreviated survey of her service includes work with Russian immigrants, with the League of Women Voters, as an art specialist in Wichita public schools and as chair of the WSU Board of Trustees and member of the WSU Foundation’s National Advisory Council.

Elizabeth King, WSU vice president for university advancement, is quick to point out the role Beren plays at the university: “She is wise, discerning. She sees the big picture.” But more than that, King says, she is “a philanthropist from the heart.”

While Beren has certainly been influential in the lives of many, the role she plays within her own family circle is at heart what brought her to the attention of the First Lady. Beren explains, “Laura Bush was looking for someone from an intergenerational activist family, and she had knowledge of my daughters’ volunteer work.”

This tradition of service, Beren adds, is something her family does naturally. She recalls that in 1935 her grandfather took her grandmother and moved to Israel, where he founded a seminary. He returned to the United States in the 1950s; her grandmother is buried on the Mount of Olives.

She also cites her growing-up years in Ohio when her family often shared their home with Holocaust survivors as the beginning of her own drive to help others. Beren now has her grandfather’s prayer stand in her home; it is, she says, a reminder to her of her family’s legacy of service — the legacy that led Bush to speak of Beren’s daughters and their being “inspired by their mother’s commitment to her community and her faith.”

When Beren hosts family night on Fridays with her son’s family, they begin with doing something for charity. It is a lesson she has passed on to her four children — and 14 grandchildren. Family comes first in Beren households. “My kids recognize how blessed they are,” Beren says, “and their kids do as well.”

Because, she says, “I don’t like to miss anything my grandchildren do,” Beren limits her activities these days. Yet her continuing dedication to her alma mater is obvious. In particular, WSU’s Ulrich Museum of Art is a source of interest to the art history graduate.

In the dedicatory note for a WSU Plaza of Heroines bench in Beren’s honor, her children say: “Dedicating her life to us and to making a difference in the lives of so many, our mother has served as an inspiration and an example of how to live a life with integrity, grace and dignity.”

Beren says simply, “To get the satisfaction of doing something for somebody else — there’s no greater satisfaction than that.”


Land of Opportunity

In 1962, 16-year-old Luisa Pequeño left Cuba with her brother. Helped by a Catholic charity, the Pequeño siblings made the journey without their parents.

Philanthropist from the Heart

Not many people can say they’ve come up in a speech given by the First Lady of the United States. But Joan Beren ’83 can.

The Best There Is

You’ll search in vain for former Shocker great Doug Mirabelli fs ’97 in all those photos of the jubilant dog pile that followed the Boston Red Sox’s dramatic World Series championship in October.