Guest Opinion: New grad reflects on being ‘Phil Forever’ after life at UI


During my four years at the University of Iowa, I noticed the names of the buildings when I walked around campus. I often wondered about the stories behind the people who gave so generously to Iowa to ensure that their favorite colleges or programs were funded at a world-class level. Learning about their biographies offers just a small window into their larger stories of philanthropy (their “Phil” stories), but knowing what inspires the UI’s most generous benefactors is what I always find so exciting to hear.

This is why one of my favorite UI experiences was listening to John Pappajohn tell his story at his “Life With Phil” talk on campus in the fall of 2015.

As Pappajohn told his story, he noted that his first donation to the UI was just $5. That initial gift, he said, created a habit of giving that led to his later UI gifts. He gave because the university provided him with opportunities — and he kept giving because he saw the difference it made in the lives of UI students who came after him … students such as me.

When he concluded his talk, he asked everyone in attendance to join him in that habit of giving, and he said he was going to help jump-start it for us. He gave each attendee (667) an envelope with $10 enclosed, and he encouraged us to “be Phil for a day” and donate it to the UI programs of our choosing. He also asked us to consider these as the first gifts of our own four-year pledges, and he promised to match our gifts for all four years — as we become the next generation of donors who will ensure that our UI experiences will be preserved for others.

I received an email from Pappajohn last fall reminding me to make my next pledge payment, and I thought about my memories from my time at the university. I thought about the education I received, the opportunities I explored, and the relationships I built with my professors and fellow students — none of which would have been possible without private support from such people as Pappajohn. It only took a few seconds of reflecting on these memories to know that I wanted to continue my part of the pledge to give similar memories to current and future students.

Following his example, I’ve made it a priority to be “Phil Forever” and keep up the habit of giving back.

Thomas Biedenfeld (2016 B.A.) 

Donor Services Associate and Data Specialist, Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines

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