ELMHURST -- Longtime Elmhurst businessman, civic leader and community volunteer Ralph Pechanio has donated $100,000 to Elmhurst College to establish an endowed fund to support student internships at the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
Pechanio had been supporting the chamber's internship program anonymously for more than a decade, but decided recently to allow his name to be used when the fund was established.
"I thought it was important for people to be aware of the program, and that it might encourage others to give to it," he said.
Pechanio's gift also helps to jump start the chamber's fundraising goals as it launches a once-in-a-century capital campaign to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2018. One of the goals of the campaign is to raise $150,000 to endow the Chamber's Student Intern Reimbursement Fund at Elmhurst College.
"Ralph's gift will ensure that Elmhurst College student interns will have a developmental role with our Chamber long after he and I have faded from the organization's picture and, in that future, those interns will serve our successors in ways neither of us can imagine today," said John Quigley, president and CEO of the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce & Industry and a 1977 Elmhurst College graduate.
Pechanio has been an active member of the Elmhurst chamber for some 45 years, serving several times in leadership roles. His local affiliations include the Kiwanis Club of Elmhurst and Elmhurst American Legion THB Post 187. A U.S. Army veteran, Pechanio also has led Elmhurst's recognition of veterans, chairing the Elmhurst Veterans Memorial Commission and co-chairing the Elmhurst Memorial Day Parade Committee.
It was through the chamber and civic roles that Pechanio gained firsthand experience with the internship program, working with interns at chamber events and the Memorial Day parade.
"We've been very pleased with the interns over the years," he said. "They're serious about their work, get to meet a lot of people in the community and help us do some important things. It's good experience for the students, and they make a great contribution."
The Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce & Industry has employed paid Elmhurst College student interns since the early 1990s. The Chamber then became a participant in the Illinois Board of Higher Education's JOBPATH Student Intern Program through Elmhurst College after Quigley became the Chamber's president and CEO in 1999. About 40 students have served as interns at the Chamber over the past 17 years.
While student interns are responsible for doing basic office work, many also have leveraged their skill sets to contribute to the Chamber's numerous programs, products, services and events. Student interns regularly manage segments of the Chamber's website, as well as its social media pages. Some also have worked on membership recruitment and retention initiatives, collection on account receivables and the solicitation of donations. Several former interns went on to receive multiple job offers, including from some Chamber members.
"It's obvious that Elmhurst College students who have worked as interns at the Chamber gain a wealth of experience while contributing their energy and skills to a group that works tirelessly to enhance the Elmhurst business community," said Elmhurst College President Troy D. VanAken. "We're so grateful to Ralph for his generous gift, which will benefit our students and our community far into the future."