Former Partnership Grant Recipient Bio 48

Now that the 2018-2019 school year has begun, The Partnership for Educational Excellence is wrapping up its mini-biographies of some (12 percent) of its past scholars who have volunteered their information and reflections on the role of post-secondary education in their lives.

The final three bios are a celebration of its three very first scholars. Matt Herman, John Heyen, and Tracy Mathis (in alphabetical order) graduated in 1993. They each received $250 – all that The Partnership could afford – as they set off for college.

Today The Partnership offers $1,000 scholarships, and in 2018 awarded them to 21 Gillespie High School graduates, nearly 30 percent of the graduating class. This education 501(c)3 foundation in Macoupin County CUSD7 has invested nearly $800,000 in district children to date.

 Traci Mathis Kennebeck

Traci Mathis Kennebeck

Traci Mathis Kennebeck graduated from Gillespie High School in 1993, winning a $250 Partnership for Educational Excellence scholarship.

Traci earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from St. Louis University in 1997. The next two years she worked to obtain a Master’s degree in social work from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.

“I worked in the social work field for years with positions in women’s health research, foster care and adoption, and supporting adults with disabilities to live independently in their communities,” she says.

“I then became a certified birth doula and worked as an on-staff doula at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville from 2009 to 2011,” Traci recounts. In addition, in 2010 she started a private doula collective called Purple Lotus Doulas with several business partners. Purple Lotus continues to provide birth and postpartum doula services, including lactation support and placenta encapsulation, in St. Louis and surrounding areas.

Traci has also trained in the field of aromatherapy, gaining several certifications. “I have built a thriving holistic health business (Purple Lotus Oils), focusing mainly on providing education and support in the use of essential oils. I enjoy traveling all over the country to teach, and I love the opportunities I get to not only support others in their quest for better health and comfort, but also to provide mentorship for others in the field who are building their businesses,” she says.

An active volunteer throughout her life, Traci now holds a goal of establishing a charitable arm of my current business. “My heart’s vision would be to found a not-for-profit that would help provide birth support and education to pregnant teenage girls in the foster care system,” she says. Traci lives in St. Louis with her husband Jack and two sons, Trent and Dominic. She enjoys

volunteering at their schools and being involved in their soccer and hockey activities. In her spare time, she enjoys travel, camping, hiking, fishing, and playing hockey with her family. “I also enjoy learning new things and adding items to my skill set” from crafting to home improvement, she says. Currently she is studying the Scottish Gaelic Language independently and with distance learning courses through an organization in Scotland.

“As for the role The Partnership played in my life, I remember the sense of relief that was provided by knowing the money I received would help move me toward my envisioned life goals,” Traci recalls. “My career goal has always only been to help people, which is why I was drawn to the field of social service. I would never have envisioned myself as a future business entrepreneur. In my current career path, however, I feel that I am in a position to h help empower people and serve them more than when I worked in direct contact in the social service field. It has allowed me to develop and grow more on a personal level as well, and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities which have come my way.”

Traci is the daughter of Mike and Janice Mathis of Gillespie.

Former Partnership Grant Recipient Bio 37

Maura Kluthe graduated from Gillespie High School in 2011, earning a $500 Henry Marcacci Memorial Scholarship from The Partnership for Educational Excellence.

Maura graduated from Gillespie High School (GHS) in 2011. She then attended Blackburn College in Carlinville where she majored in biology and minored in environmental science. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in 2015.

“Blackburn College fit me well. It’s a smaller college, and everybody knew one another and helped each other,” she recalls. “You had a close relationship working with your professors. They helped us decide on post-college options and prepared us for those choices.”

She says she plans to continue her education with graduate school, but has no immediate plans.

After Blackburn, Maura took a job at Washington University in St. Louis where she works in the fields of neurology and immunology/pathology as they relate to Alzheimer’s Disease. She is dedicated to helping find and support cures for diseases.

In her leisure time Maura enjoys cooking, reading, bicycling, camping, hiking – “anything outdoors” that relates to nature, the environment, and animals.

Regarding her scholarship, Maura says, “I worked in the ‘Work Program’ at Blackburn, which taught me the responsibilities of holding a job. I learned many different jobs, and earned part of my tuition. That made me feel like I participated in paying for college.” But The Partnership scholarship was “very generous,” she says. “It helped me obtain my degree. I am so thankful for it.”

Maura is the daughter of Steve and Judy Kluthe of Gillespie.

United Community Bank in Gillespie Makes Important Contribution to The Partnership's 25th Anniversary Fund

United Community Bank’s (UCB) Gillespie branch has made a $2,000 gift to The Partnership for Educational Excellence. The money is in response to the education foundation’s 25th anniversary drive to raise at least $25,000 to increase its academic tuition scholarships to $1,000 each.

“The bank is very excited to make this gift,” says Jenni Alepra , Senior Vice President - Retail, Regional Manager. “I went to our president, Todd Wise, and showed him what remarkable contributions The Partnership has made in the past quarter century. I said I’d like the bank to be a part of this 25th anniversary fund drive. His response was enthusiastic and generous. We’re proud to make this contribution to the future of our children and our community.”

Alepra notes that UCB’s Student of the Month program, which culminates in an annual scholarship, reflects the bank’s hometown community banking philosophy that has been in place since 1973. In addition, Alepra herself has been an active and committed member of the CUSD7 school board for 16 years.

“We are grateful for the support which Jenni Alepra and UCB have always shown The Partnership,” says John Fassero, Jr., president and a founding member. “UCB has supported every one of our fund raisers. Now this gift is a thrilling new chapter in their generosity. Every penny will be used to match existing memorial scholarships dollar-for-dollar.”

Headquartered in Chatham, Illinois, UCB is locally owned and managed. The company empowers branch managers to make local decisions that best support the communities where they work and live.

 John Fassero, Jr., president of The Partnership, accepts a $2,000 donation from Jenni Alepra, Senior Vice President of United Community Bank's (UCB) Gillespie location.

John Fassero, Jr., president of The Partnership, accepts a $2,000 donation from Jenni Alepra, Senior Vice President of United Community Bank's (UCB) Gillespie location.

Hebenstreits Establish Scholarship on Occasion of Partnership's 25th Anniversary

Gil and Mary Jean Hebenstreit of Gillespie have established an annual scholarship through The Partnership for Educational Excellence.

The Hebenstreits say they “want to encourage young people to pursue their goals through education.” The $500 Gil and Mary Jean Hebenstreit Scholarship, first to be offered in 2018, The Partnership’s 25th anniversary year, will be awarded annually.

“We are so pleased that Gil and Mary Jean responded to our year of celebrating past scholars and other accomplishments,” says John Fassero, Jr., president and a founding member of The Partnership. Since 1992, the education foundation has channeled donors’ dollars into more than $800,000 in 393 academic tuition scholarships and hundreds of classroom mini-grants.

“The Hebenstreit’s ongoing support and example are very much appreciated,” says Fassero. “Without the generosity and faith of friends and neighbors, these programs would not be possible.”

This well-known Gillespie couple moved to the area after their marriage in 1961 and purchased a funeral home in Gillespie. Subsequently they operated furniture stores in Gillespie, Benld, Auburn, and Edwardsville. Next they ran an Anheuser Busch beer distributorship out of Benld while also buying and renting apartments. Their apartment business still thrives.

Gil and Mary Jean are the parents of three children: Mary Louise, Gene, and Margie Brill.

 Mary Jean and Gil Hebenstreit

Mary Jean and Gil Hebenstreit