Cover Stories: Celebrating Sacrifice with the Konopko Scholarship

May 18, 2015

Jeff-and-Ann-FeldRecently, Ann Feld received one of the most powerful gifts of her life. Her husband, Jeff, surprised her by creating a new endowment at Michigan State University.

After building a wonderful life and career together, few things bring the couple more pride than remembering the people and the places that helped them reach this point. Jeff wanted to honor his wife’s legacy in particular.

That’s why the donation will provide scholarships to future teachers at her beloved alma mater, the MSU College of Education. In addition, the gift will honor the sacrifices of some of the hardest working people they have ever known—her parents.

“They wanted me to have a better life and they knew the only way was through education,” said Ann.

Harry and Bertha Konopko were poor immigrants from Poland who came to Michigan, by way of Cuba, in 1948. Her father worked past retirement age so he could pay for his daughter to attend MSU and become a teacher, the first in her family to complete college.

Jeff, B.S., D.V.M. ’73 (Veterinary Medicine), also was a first-generation student. He credits grant money—and a very encouraging advisor—for launching his path to success, starting along the Red Cedar River.

“We have always felt we are who we are because of Michigan State,” said Ann, B.A. ’72 (Elementary Education). “We want to be able to give some other kids the chance to go to college and have a successful life.”

Paying it forward

Ann met Jeff on her first day of classes at MSU. She started during spring term without much orientation, so she called a friend from childhood whose roommate happened to be Jeff.

They were married right after graduation. Ann got a job teaching in Bath, Mich., while Jeff finished his veterinary program. They later moved to Southeastern Michigan where they raised their sons and grew a vibrant veterinary business based in five locations.

The Felds are now retired and living in Las Vegas, but they remain loyal Spartans who have served as leaders of the local MSU alumni club.

Already generous donors to MSU, Jeff says the Empower Extraordinary campaign “lit a fire.” The family has been inspired not only to help the university reach its fundraising goals, but to support students who are committed to the rewarding but financially daunting education profession.

“Without education, you get nowhere in life. But teachers are very underpaid so those who want to be teachers have to be dedicated,” said Ann. At MSU, she knows the quality of the Teacher Preparation Program, including the required yearlong internship, makes graduates stand out.

“They are not just learning their first year. They are ready to teach their first year.”

As the Felds’ endowment grows, the Konopko scholarship will eventually cover half of the tuition for a student who has the will but not necessarily the means to become an outstanding Spartan teacher.

Eventually, they expect to support several students who, like them, represent the first generation in their family to attend college.

“The main thing that makes Michigan State great is that it gives an opportunity to everyone,” said Jeff. “With the state no longer providing as much money, like at most state universities, it’s up to the graduates, the alumni, to make sure we all pay it forward.”