LAWRENCE — A recent visit with students in the University of Kansas Department of Theatre inspired alumnus Jon Eicholtz and his wife, actress Barbara Eden, of Beverly Hills, California, to make a $300,000 gift to provide an undergraduate scholarship for students who plan to be professional actors.
“I had a desire to do something for the university in acknowledgement of and return for what it had done for me. KU gave me a foundation for my life,” Eicholtz said. “It also was important to me that this gift be meaningful to Barbara, and that it be a reflection of her career.”
After growing up in Topeka, Eicholtz earned a bachelor's degree from KU in architectural engineering in 1962. His career in construction management and, later, real estate development, took him across the U.S., including New York City, Dallas, New Orleans, Honolulu and Los Angeles. Early in his career, he served as project manager during construction of Commerce Tower, a 30-story skyscraper that is prominent in the Kansas City, Missouri, skyline.
Barbara Eden is an actress and singer. She starred in the popular 1960s television series “I Dream of Jeannie,” which ran for five seasons. The show has aired continuously on cable and in syndications for more than four decades. She has starred in 25 feature films, five network TV series and 19 top-rated network made-for-television movies. She has headlined at major hotel resorts and casinos, including Lake Tahoe, Atlantic City and Las Vegas, and she continues to perform for audiences in the U.S. and abroad.
“We were so pleased to welcome Jon and Barbara to campus earlier this year, especially since Barbara was able to visit with our students and share insights from her career. This gift will help generations of KU actors follow in Barbara’s footsteps, and on their behalf, I want to thank her and Jon for this generous gift,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.
Mechele Leon, chair of the Department of Theatre, said the scholarship would be an asset in recruiting and rewarding students who not only demonstrate talent and academic achievements, but also have a proven commitment to a career as a performer. Each year, one full-ride academic year scholarship will be awarded.
During Eden’s Feb. 14 visit to the department, Professor John Staniunas interviewed her onstage about her life and career. The students were attentive and stayed to ask questions about Eden’s career and have photos taken with her.
“There’s no replacement for the inspiration that students get from speaking to a performer of that kind of international and national stature,” said Leon. “The career potential becomes real to them; their aspirations become real.”
The students were particularly interested in Eden’s method of character development, Leon said.
“Barbara talked about how she created Jeannie’s sunny personality. She described Jeannie as being a character who was naïve, and that everything was new and exciting for her,” said Leon. “I think that’s where all that excitement and freshness and happiness came from. Her role was fresh and innocent more than it was magical and sexy.”
The inaugural recipient of the Jon T. Eicholtz and Barbara Eden Acting Scholarship will be announced during the department’s annual award presentation ceremony Friday, May 9. Students auditioned for the scholarship last week.
The gift counts toward Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, the university’s $1.2 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign. Far Above seeks support to educate future leaders, advance medicine, accelerate discovery and drive economic growth to seize the opportunities of the future.
The campaign is managed by KU Endowment, the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.