James S. Kemper

James S. Kemper

The fundamental philosophy of the James S. Kemper Foundation is that a college-level education in the liberal arts complemented by workplace experiential education represents the ideal preparation for life and work, especially for careers in administration and business. The mission of the Foundation is to promote that philosophy.

Please read on to explore more about the James S. Kemper Foundation.

James S. Kemper

In 1942, James Scott Kemper, founder of the Lumbermens Mutual Casualty Company and related Kemper insurance companies, established an independent private foundation. The Kemper companies provided significant financial support to the Foundation’s endowment during its first 25 years. That endowment is committed like the Foundation’s founder to helping shape the future leaders of American organizations.

Since its inception, the Foundation has concentrated on funding projects related to higher education. A special internship/scholarship initiative operated by the Foundation, the Kemper Scholars Program, has flourished since 1948 and recently celebrated its 60th anniversary year. The Foundation has also expanded its activities to include educational project grants and support for certain educational programs for college students at cultural institutions in Chicago.

In 2004, the Board of Trustees determined that future grants will be made to small, private undergraduate colleges, with a particular emphasis on liberal arts education and its relationship to administration, business, and leadership. The Kemper Scholars Program provides opportunities to college students at sixteen partner institutions, all of them small and private. The Foundation continues to provide support for college student opportunities and internships at Chicago’s cultural organizations.

A Brief History of the Kemper Scholars Program

In the first decade after its 1948 founding, the Kemper Scholars Program focused primarily on supporting college and university students whose chosen areas of study related to insurance administration as a career. The James S. Kemper Foundation’s first scholarship program, however, was in 1947 in the fields of industrial medicine and surgery with research fellowships at the medical schools of Northwestern University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Additional areas of support soon included Fire Protection and Safety Engineering and Actuarial Science. The Foundation’s commitment to a broad and diverse impact took the form of ensuring that colleges and universities across the country were included among the Kemper Scholar Institutions.

By 1955, the Foundation was supporting forty-eight Kemper Scholars in eighteen colleges and universities across the country. Graduate fellowships for students in Industrial Hygiene and Highway Traffic had been added. The annual report of that year reported that as the program expanded, "small colleges are sought that afford the best in liberal arts education, can give appropriate attention to the program, and will benefit by having additional scholarships at their disposal for worthy prospective students."

Throughout its history, the Kemper Scholars Program has maintained that earliest commitment. At the turn of the millennium, as the Foundation’s Board undertook a program of planning for the future, the same principles remained critical in the selection of Kemper Scholar Institutions.

From its beginnings, the undergraduate Kemper Scholars Program always included scholarship aid for students and summer professional internships. Until the turn of the Millennium, all of those internships were at one or another branch of the Kemper Insurance Companies. It was in the 1956 annual report that the Trustees made explicit mention of the objective of cultivating "broadly educated" liberal arts students "for future leadership." Thus they set forth in writing the Foundation’s belief that leadership skills and attitudes can best be developed on the base of liberal arts studies and honed through practical experience in internships during students’ college years. Kemper Scholars of the mid-fifties included male and female students from every region of the United States.

The late 1950s saw the addition of Kemper graduate fellowships in Insurance Teaching and a return to Surgical Research. By the annual report of 1959, the Kemper Scholars group included 120 continuing scholars and graduates for that year. Executive Director Hiram L. Kennicott’s report for 1959 noted "ever-increasing affirmation" of the Foundation’s assertions about the value of liberal arts education and internships as the basis for leadership development.

He quoted from a publication of the Bank of Canada which noted: "The best way to cultivate the bigness of mind needed for success in business is through the liberal studies. They enlarge the understanding and deepen the insight. They develop accuracy in observation, quickness and certainty in seizing upon the main points of a new subject, and discrimination in separating the trivial from the important in great masses of facts. They contribute to mental power in situations that cannot be predicted in detail."

At the turn of the decade into the 1960s, the Foundation expanded its support for health related programs. Grants funded attendance at the Yale University Summer School for Alcoholism Studies for municipal employees. And, in 1960 alone, under a grant from the James S. Kemper Foundation thirteen young surgeons were sent by the American College of Surgeons to present papers at the scientific meeting of the International Federation of Surgical Colleges and Societies in London.

Hiram L. Kennicott, executive director of the James S. Kemper Foundation from its inception, died in 1962. His successor, Charles W. Webster, noted in the 1963 annual report, "In these time of stress and challenge, it is imperative that business be provided with articulate, broadly educated and imaginative leadership." Thus he reflected the longstanding commitment of the Foundation to use its resources for the benefit of the larger community by assisting individual students of promise and assisting colleges committed to a broad liberal arts education.

While the 1960s saw a growing number of women interested in careers in insurance -- and hence a growing number of them were selected as Kemper Scholars studying Insurance Administration, the field was still largely dominated by men.

Nevertheless, the roster of Kemper Scholars achieved greater gender balance in those it supported by the addition of programs supporting students in Hospital Nursing.

J. S. Kemper, Sr. greets Kemper Scholars during their summer program in 1967. Demonstrating the commitment of the Kemper family to the Foundation, the 1965 annual report notes that James S. Kemper was Chairman of the Foundation and James S. Kemper, Jr., was President. Their personal commitment to the principle of a broad education applied to business careers remained the guideline for the Foundation’s efforts. The Board noted in that year that they were "intensifying efforts to help scholars understand the relationship of their academic studies to their potential careers."

Perhaps James S. Kemper’s clearest and most insightful comments on the matter of liberal arts education and business came in a guest editorial in Insurance Magazine in July, 1965. In his essay, Mr. Kemper challenged his fellow leaders in business to "have sufficient liberality of thought to face the uncomfortable fact that we must hire better men than we are."

Ahead of the times, he recommended that leaders develop what Peter Senge would call a "learning organization" in his acclaimed 1990 book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Mr. Kemper explained "Since liberal arts education must be a continuous process, companies must provide a climate where liberal education can flourish. Company programs must not solely be concerned with training in particular aspects of the business. Training is necessary but not enough. Training makes employees experts in answering questions. Education helps employees to determine what questions should be asked.”

During its first quarter century, the James S. Kemper Foundation awarded 462 scholarships through the Kemper Scholars Program. The 25th Anniversary report of the Foundation in 1967 spoke powerfully about the impact of the Kemper Scholars program: "It is most difficult to place a value upon the contribution the Kemper Scholarship has made in the personal development and the life of an individual scholar.

Experience has taught us that the amount of financial assistance is rather quickly forgotten, but the practical knowledge gained through our summer-on-the-job training and the close working relationship with leaders of the Kemper Companies have played an important, constructive and unforgettable part in their lives."

In 1968 when they ceased, contributions from the various entities of The Kemper Insurance Companies to form the endowment corpus of the James S. Kemper Foundation had reached over $5.1 million. By 1988, contributions from members of the Kemper family had reached over $1.25 million, while gifts from other persons, including some Kemper Scholar alumni, brought the total from individual donors to over $1,375,000. James Kemper, Jr., contributed a major gift of stock from Kemper Sports Management in 1998.

Charles W. Webster served as Executive Director of the Kemper Foundation from 1963 until his death in 1977. Webster continued the program’s expansion, with the number of scholars exceeding 120 a year. He emphasized and celebrated what he saw as the "uniqueness."

Kemper Scholars alumni David Mathis (now Chairman of the Board of the Kemper Foundation), and Bill Kellow mentor a young Kemper Scholar in the late 1960s at Kemper Insurance.

of the Kemper Scholars program compared to other national scholarship programs. He argued that the program’s major differences included its career objective, which involved practical internship opportunities, and the commitment of the Foundation to mentoring the scholars and giving them continuing attention and assistance beyond financial grants. Webster noted that the Kemper Scholar "knows that there is someone who has taken the time and made the effort to sit down and talk with and listen to him not once but on numerous occasions." In addressing the Board on his tenth anniversary as Executive Director, Webster wrote: "As Trustees you are not just giving dollars to students but are directly involved in guiding, directing and shaping the life of a young person."

Webster’s successor as Executive Director, Bruce W. Coggin, served in that role for just over two years, resigning to accept a call as Rector of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Cleburne, Texas. During his tenure the Kemper Scholars Program added a number of new graduate fellowships including Public Affairs, Insurance Law and Public Health. Several of them were named in honor of leaders in the Kemper Insurance Companies and Foundation, including the Kennicott Fellowship, the Hathaway Kemper Fellowship, and the Kuhn Fellowship.

In 1980, Coggin was succeeded by John H. Barcroft, whose background was in higher education teaching and administration and in program management for the national Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 1981, the Foundation’s Board of Trustees and staff mourned the death of founder Ambassador James S. Kemper, while recommitting themselves to carry on his goals and values.

By 1987 Barcroft had accomplished the objective of reducing the number of Kemper Scholars from nearly 150 annually to 60. The group’s demographics had become evenly divided between males and females and included 15% minorities. Barcroft noted that this shift in demographic balance, while indeed a goal of the Foundation, had been achieved solely on the basis of the merit of the student applicants rather than any artificial quota system.

Barcroft and the Trustees reduced the number of students supported by the Foundation not for financial reasons but for the purpose of enhancing their experience as Kemper Scholars. With 60 students a year, each could be given more individualized attention by Kemper Foundation staff; and the need for finding fewer internship placements helped ensure better work site experiences.

Further, Foundation staff could give more attention to building close relationships with the colleges and universities which were the providers of students for the program.

The Foundation’s assessment of the Kemper Scholars Program focused on the quality of the scholars’ performance. In the first five years of the 1980s – a time of less-rampant grade inflation than succeeding decades – 70% of Kemper Scholars maintained grade point averages above 3.25 at some of the most competitive schools in the country. More important, perhaps, was the fact that the scholars’ internship supervisors, at a time when all internships were with Kemper Companies, evaluated 50-55% of the scholars as "above the Kemper standard."

In the summer of 1986, 72% of the students were so rated. At the time, less than 20% of full-time permanent Kemper employees achieved an "above the standard" rating.

Beyond these assessment criteria, the Foundation sought to ensure that scholars were developing character as well. In 1987, Barcroft wrote that his conversations with students and a review of their self-evaluations led him to conclude that most scholars "are genuinely trying to develop themselves into substantial businesspeople of real integrity."

He noted that the Foundation had "developed some exceedingly pointed briefing material for the participating institutions and for the scholars on the issues of style and character, and we try to measure improvement from year to year." Indeed, the commitment to ethics and integrity, which came directly from the personal philosophy and style of James S. Kemper himself, has remained a focal point of the Kemper Scholars program and of grantmaking for the Foundation.

James S. Kemper, Jr., and James S. Kemper, Sr.

In 1986, James S. Kemper, Jr., retired from Lumbermens and from the Foundation’s Board of Trustees after thirty-eight years of service. He remained connected to the Foundation as an honorary Board member and to the Kemper Scholars, often addressing them during their meetings in Chicago.

The 1980s refocusing of the Kemper Scholars Program and the reduction in numbers paid off. Whereas in past years some Kemper Scholars Program Institutions had no students applying for the program for years at a time, applications soared. In one college, over 100 students applied for a single position. Increasing attention was paid to the development of excellent internship placements. In the summer of 1988, more than twice as many internship opportunities than scholars to take them were available. This helped ensure that students could be matched to the most appropriate and challenging opportunities.

The first Kemper Scholars Conference was held in 1989, offering all scholars a chance to gather together to build relationships among the group while gaining information about current critical issues in the world of business and management. The Kemper Scholar’s Conference, which has continued to the present, evolved into an opportunity for students to gain the experience of making presentations to a group of their colleagues, as scholars describe and analyze their summer internship experiences.

Following its ongoing commitment to making the Kemper Scholarship genuinely helpful to students financially as well as educationally, in 1989 the Trustees reviewed the issue of growing tuition costs. As a result, they raised the maximum annual grant from $3,500 to $5,000.

The program existed on fourteen campuses, most of which had active selection committees which included Kemper Scholars in the selection process, a practice which continues. In 1990, the maximum number of scholars increased to 70 to permit the possibility of more than one scholar from a campus when two finalist candidates were so outstanding that choosing between them seemed impossible. The increase also allowed the Foundation to add positions for students majoring in computer science, a rapidly growing field for which excellent internship placements could be secured.

John Barcroft resigned as executive director in May, 1991 and was succeeded by Dr. James. R. Connor. Dr. Connor came to the Foundation fresh from his retirement after seventeen years as Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Since UW-Whitewater had been a Kemper Scholars Institution, Connor was not only familiar with the program but had attended the first Kemper Scholars Conference in 1989.

In a kind of appropriate symmetry, at the annual meeting of fall, 1995, David Mathis, a Kemper Scholar alumnus was elected Chairman of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees and its President. Under the Kemper Scholars Program, Mr. Mathis served an internship at the Kemper Insurance Companies’ San Francisco office in 1956 and started full-time with Kemper in 1960. In June, 1999, Dr. Thomas Hellie became executive director. Dr. Hellie had extensive experience in working with a group of strong liberal arts colleges as a member of the leadership staff of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest.

In his first annual report to the Board, Dr. Hellie emphasized his intention to continue the steadfast commitment of the James S. Kemper Foundation to "supporting education – especially business education – at American colleges and universities." As had his predecessors, he singled out the Kemper Scholars Program as the flagship enterprise of the Foundation. He noted that "it may have been the first program of its kind, and even now the Kemper Scholars Program is one of the most prestigious and generous in the nation."

Representative Kemper Scholars in 2002.

In 2002, the changing financial situation and reorganizations of the Kemper Insurance Companies, which had begun in the late 1990s, caused the Foundation to reduce its direct links to the insurance business and to the internship placements it had relied on for Kemper Scholars. The Board and staff took the opportunity of the change in its relationship to the Kemper Companies and the change of millennium to engage in extensive strategic planning concerning the future of the Foundation’s programs, especially the Kemper Scholars Program.

In September, 2003, the James S. Kemper Foundation moved its offices from the Kemper Companies campus in Long Grove, Illinois back to downtown Chicago, into the Civic Opera Building. For decades this had been the Kemper Insurance Building, and for many years it continued to house the office of James Scott Kemper, the Foundation’s founder, when the Kemper Companies moved to Long Grove in 1978.

As a result of its planning process, the Board restated, in somewhat broader terms, its longstanding mission: The mission of The James S. Kemper Foundation is to promote liberal arts education as the ideal preparation for life and work, especially in administration and business.

The Board determined that its greatest impact and, therefore, its focus in education should be on assisting small, private liberal arts colleges and their students. This definition prompted a review of the colleges and universities designated as Kemper Scholars Program Institutions and ended the program’s relationship with the larger and the public institutions with which it had worked. A group of sixteen institutions, some longstanding partners and some new have been designated as those from which Kemper Scholars would be selected. The Board determined that students of all majors who had an interest in leadership in business or management/administration would be eligible to be Kemper Scholars and internships would be sought in a wide variety of for-profit and non-profit organizations.

Yet the core of the Kemper Scholars Program and the experience of students remained unchanged from its beginnings nearly six decades before: excellent, mature, and committed students pursuing a liberal arts education would be given the opportunity by means of financial support, conscientious mentoring and attention from the Kemper Foundation staff, and placement in carefully-chosen internships to enhance their education with professional, on-the-job experiences.

The members of the first class of the newly-defined Kemper Scholars Program were selected in the spring of 2005, after a one year hiatus in adding new scholars. In the summer of 2006, nineteen scholars between their sophomore and junior years began a variety of internships in leading non-profit organizations in Chicago. In March, 2006, Dr. Thomas Hellie took up the position of President of Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon. He was succeeded as President and Executive Director by Dr. Ryan LaHurd, who had spent most of his career in higher education at small liberal arts colleges as a professor, academic dean, and president. He joined the Kemper Foundation from the position of President of the Near East Foundation in New York City.