Harper College gala flies high for scholarship fund

Harper College may have found a new tag line after Saturday night’s 50th anniversary gala: Come fly with me.

An aviation theme and the chance to fly into the future was at the center of the evening’s flight plan, and guests ate it up.

Some 425 guests checked in at the Priester Aviation hangar at Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling. Once they arrived, guests received a boarding pass and made their way through the jetway, and were then welcomed by Pan Am flight attendants.

Even retired Capt. William Norwood, the first black pilot for United Airlines and for 20 years was the voice of the airline’s safety video, appeared in a similar video that welcomed guests “on board.”

“Harper has done an outstanding job; it’s a real community treasure,” said Norwood, whose wife, Molly, served as a Harper trustee while the couple lived in Rolling Meadows.

Harper President Kenneth Ender opened the evening’s presentation by describing the college’s Promise Scholarship program. Proceeds from the gala, estimated to be about $1 million, benefit Promise.

Launched one year ago, the program allows high school students in districts 211, 214 and 220 an opportunity to earn up to two years of free tuition at Harper if they meet certain benchmarks of attendance, rigor, persistence and community service.

“This program has really resonated with people,” Ender said. “It enables every high hardworking high school student in Harper’s district the opportunity to pursue their dreams and afford a secondary education.”

Their evening went on to include an elegant in-flight meal and wine service, as well as in-flight entertainment, including choral groups performing music from throughout the decades, as well as the Talk of the Town Orchestra.

Harper officials credited Charlie Priester, of Priester Aviation, with offering the hangar space for the milestone gala. Once the venue became available, the theme took flight.

“What the college has done is so impressive,” Priester said. “It’s not only educated people scholastically, but it’s teaching young people how to find work and providing a good quality workforce.”

Georgeanna Mehr, president of the Hoffman Estates Community Bank as well as the Harper College Foundation, said the gala sold out even before the invitations were event sent.

“It’s been phenomenal,” Mehr said. “As foundation board president, I can look to the future with confidence. It’s been quite a ride.”

As parting gifts, each couple in attendance received a copy of the book, “Harper College, the First 50 Years,” written by Trygve Thoreson, who taught English and humanities at the college for 30 years.

In it, he gives vivid details of how open farmland and horse stables gave way to a vast college campus that now serves 35,000 students each year.

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