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College honors giving couple
Colorado award named for Jim, Jeanne DeSana
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Engineer. Piano player. Painter. They hardly make a Renaissance man this side of DaVinci with more renaissance in his mind and hands than Jim DeSana.
After turning 83 on June 6, the sum of DeSana's days as a retired General Motors engineer and noted artist/musician amounts to more than many men could do with three lifetimes.
His wife of 38 years, Jeanne, who is now in hospice care, has lived an incomparable life as well -- a pioneering chromosome researcher, university instructor and the state's first geneticist.
But it is what the DeSanas have given to local students that may very well define their legacy.
For the past 10 years, the DeSana Educational Fund has awarded $5,000 scholarships to select Forsyth County high school graduates.
Now, in a similar spirit of giving, their daughter Susan Beatty has established the James A. and Jeanne B. DeSana Graduate Research Scholarship at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where she is the associate dean of natural sciences.
"I just wanted to do something that would carry on the tradition that they started with their DeSana Educational Fund," Beatty said.
The couple started the fund with a combination of their savings and money earned through their post-retirement work -- paintings and piano playing by Jim, lecturing and teaching by Jeanne.
Through the end of this school year, the DeSanas have awarded 28 scholarships to students from the county's three high schools. Next year, when West Forsyth High School has its first senior class, the number of winners will increase by at least four.
"What you hope is we affected directly, 28 students [so far]," DeSana said. "Indirectly, we're hoping those will turn around and do the same thing. It grows. It's like a pyramid. It just builds."
And it is becoming a family tradition.
"Since they got students from high school into college," Beatty said, "I figured maybe what I could do was establish something in their name that would help support students from college to graduate school."
In turn, after scholarship arrangements were finalized in mid-May, the university presented the DeSanas with a framed certificate to honor and thank them.
Beatty brought it home with her on a visit last week.
"Both my parents are dedicated to education and both of them have done as [the award] says, innovation and education," she said.
"That pretty much sums up what they do. They're creative. They do all kinds of things. They've done brand new things nobody else has done before and passed on what they know, what they do and their enthusiasm for learning to students. This is a small thing that I could do to carry on the tradition."
The first graduate research award of $1,000 will be given to a student in the geography department this fall.
"Susan has done a bang-up job," DeSana said. "She's rounded it out."
When Beatty called her father to relay the good news, he said his first thought was, "I have got to tell Jeanne."
So the next day he visited his wife.
"When I told Jeanne what Susan had done, setting up this scholarship at the university ... her face just literally lit up because education and kids means the most to us. And she said to me, 'That is the most wonderful thing in the world Susan could have done.'"
Though the DeSanas have received scores of awards for their community involvement and contributions to education, those who know them well say a simple thanks is more than enough reward.
Roger Crow, a DeSana educational fund board member and president of Crow Financial, helped the couple start the fund 1998.
He characterizes their contributions as "incredible."
"Probably, they are singularly the most involved non-parents in helping education [in Forsyth County]," Crow said.
"And they never did it for their own benefit. They just loved doing it."
Katie Abraham, a 2002 Forsyth Central graduate, was a DeSana scholarship recipient. Today, she is a member of the educational fund's board.
Abraham, 25, is the marketing and sales director at Chestatee Golf Club in Dawson County. She graduated magna cum laude from both Young Harris College and North Georgia College & State University.
Abraham's brother Robert, who recently graduated from Georgia Tech, was a 2004 DeSana scholarship recipient.
She said their scholarships and the personal, near familial connection with the DeSanas make them and other students feel "like we're their own children."
Abraham said she was thrilled to learn about the Colorado scholarship and sees it as a fitting tribute.
"A lot of people tell him thank you," she said.
"But I don't think he gets enough recognition. He's an amazing, selfless man. Really he and Mrs. DeSana have dedicated their lives to helping students."