How a Lifelong Friendship Between UIUC Alumni Led to a Lasting Legacy
Mark Brandt was born on February 19, 1964, in Kankakee, IL. The youngest of three boys, he spent his childhood in Chebanse, IL. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in Finance in 1986. Mark had a long and successful career at General Electric, starting there just after graduation and retiring near the end of 2013 at age 50.
Mark left us too soon in January of 2021 – just shy of his 57th birthday. He named his friend and fellow University of Illinois graduate Mary Leyendecker as the executor and trustee of his estate. Mark met Mary during their freshman year at the University of Illinois where they lived in the same residence hall. Both were first-generation college students, and they became lifelong friends. Given the profound impact that the University of Illinois had on the trajectory of their lives and friendship, Mary chose the University of Illinois Foundation as one of the charities to receive a substantial portion of his estate.
“I am so happy to share his legacy with you. My kids were very close to him–he was Uncle Mark to them, and particularly my daughter who is getting her MSW (Master of Social Work). Mark always had many questions for Bridget about the changing world and how to address areas that were new to us–like gender identity and terminology. I feel certain he would enjoy helping those who are going to help society.” – Mary Leyendecker
Mark cared deeply about helping others. As a member of the LGBTQ community, Mark also knew what it was like to experience marginalization and the need for the support and resources that social workers provide. His time at the University of Illinois enabled him to find a community where he was accepted and embraced. When Mark passed, his only instructions to Mary were to use his funds to “do good in the world”.
How Mark Brandt’s Legacy will Create Lasting Impact
The School of Social Work has a long-standing history of providing innovative education that trains social workers to be agents of change and champions of good across the globe. One of the most critical aspects of this learning experience is the Field Education program. Each student is required to complete an intensive internship (up to 900 hours over 32 weeks) in a community service agency. During this incredibly valuable and immersive experience, students are engaged in their placement nearly full time and generally without pay. Coupled with concurrent classwork, this often produces significant stress on both time and finances. While some students are able to adequately prepare and budget for this part of their educational journey, many others are not. Non-traditional students supporting families, and first-generation students just like Mark and Mary, are especially vulnerable during this time. These students are sometimes faced with the decision to meet basic needs such as food, rent, and childcare or to continue their education – and a great many face the ever-present worry of rising debt.
Recognizing this gap as an opportunity to do good in the world, Mary has chosen to honor Mark’s legacy by creating the Mark Brandt Memorial Fund for Social Work. This endowed fund will be seeded with a gift from Mark’s estate valued at over $1 million and will provide full tuition support for students in need during their Field Placement. Because of Mark’s legacy, students will be able to focus on their education and on serving the needs of others. Multiple lives will forever be changed for the better – each and every year, in perpetuity. And when these students embark on this journey, they will carry Mark’s legacy with them. They will use it to spread good to every child they rescue from violence, every family they help avoid hunger and homelessness, and every older person striving to maintain independence. It will also be felt by every abused survivor they support, every immigrant they guide through the system, and every marginalized person that they show kindness and civility towards. This gift will be the good that these students need and will substantiate Mark’s legacy at the School of Social Work while creating a ripple effect of positive change throughout our world.