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Donor Surprises Saint Xavier with Unexpected Gift

Few knew she changed her will to benefit SXU nursing students

Chicago (Jan. 24, 2005) – It’s no surprise that Virginia E. Landman continues to inspire, even in her death. It’s how she has gone about it that surprised officials at Saint Xavier University.

Either as a nurse in World War II or as a professor of nursing, Landman would emphasize the importance of caring for the whole person in addition to treating the individual’s physical ailment, an approach in compassion that was reinforced as she earned a master’s degree from Saint Xavier University in 1973. 

She also encouraged her students to excel in their education and to always pursue knowledge for the benefit of, not themselves, but others.

No surprise there, said Anne Bavier, dean of the School of Nursing at Saint Xavier.

“Virginia Landman had a passion about knowledge and education that she highly valued as endeavors that needed to be available for people in order to advance their careers and make a difference,” Bavier said. “She herself spent a lot of time working to use her education at Saint Xavier to prepare her to accomplish anything she wanted to do. She really felt that this institution provided her that special opportunity.”

As a result, it was also of no surprise when Landman and the university began conversations to establish two $20,000 merit-based nursing scholarships in Landman’s name, one for upper-class undergraduate students and one for freshmen or sophomores each year. The endowment would come from her estate as spelled out in her will and was agreed to in 2003.

Those conversations began after the university contacted Landman to thank her for a $100 gift she had previously made to the university, said Deborah Hughes, associate director of planned giving at Saint Xavier. At that time, Landman asked about establishing a fund, and Hughes and Mary Lebold, then-dean of the nursing school, decided to visit her at her Peoria home soon after.

The university, however, would not realize the full extent of Landman’s gift until a year following her death in October, 2003. She was 81.

The first surprise came late last year when Landman’s attorney contacted the university with news that Landman had altered her will to leave the residual of her estate to the scholarship funds. The second surprise came when the university learned months later that the residual was valued at $100,000.

“It was entirely unexpected,” said Deborah Hughes, associate director of planned giving at Saint Xavier.

Hughes knew Landman was a collector, based on her observations as she met with Landman in her living room talking about her service in the war, her pursuant teaching career and her philosophy of nursing care. But it was not until Hughes returned to Landman’s home after her death that she and others discovered the vastness of the Landman collection.

There were thousands of pieces: Railroad memorabilia, Christmas decorations and ornaments, fine art, antique furniture, china, stamps, coins and much more, found throughout her home, including memorabilia from the historic Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Co., founded in 1827, for which Landman worked as a nurse stewardess after the war.

“It took us about a year to go through it all,” said Donald Charleston, Landman’s estate executor. “Her real love was Christmas. It took seven hours to sell 3,000 Christmas ornaments and decorations at the auction.”

At the time of her death, Landman was writing a history of the railroad, including many of its recipes on the Diplomat, a luxury line between Missouri and Washington, D.C., on which she met many celebrities, athletes and politicians, including the first family of President Harry S. Truman. Her work on the book was featured in a Peoria Journal Star article in 2003.

Although her collection benefited from her wayfaring work, Landman’s true passion for education would ultimately persuade her to return to the classroom, first as a student and then as a teacher of 30 years, having taught at the Practical Nursing Center in Chicago, DePaul University and Bradley University, where she retired in 1989. In between, she received her master’s degree from Saint Xavier, an education she was forever indebted to because of its focus on caring for the whole person, Charleston said. 

“She was greatly appreciative of the quality education she received at SXU, and she wanted to see that other students who met her requirements had a chance to receive a nursing degree like she did. She wanted to remain a part of that,” Charleston said.

The first of the scholarships from the Virginia Landman Fund, which now stands at $140,000, will be awarded for the fall semester of the 2005-06. The average scholarship for each recipient will be about $3,500 a year but the true value is much more, said Sara Miller Acosta, director of development at Saint Xavier.

“When a donor has the foresight to create a scholarship fund that allows for a greater award to the students, the benefits to that student are long lasting, including the ability to concentrate on their studies for which they are being rewarded as outstanding students,” Miller Acosta said. “Virginia Landman understood that.”   

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