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Family overcomes tragedy, uses philanthropy to "pay it forward"

By Hayli Morrison 

Brad Beecher found himself temporarily living in the basement of a fellow K-State chemical engineering graduate after a tornado destroyed his Joplin, Mo., home on May 22, 2011.

One step at a time, Brad and his wife, Penny, picked up the pieces of their life and moved on. Nine days after the tornado, Brad assumed his new role as president and CEO of Empire District Electric Company in Joplin. Two years later, their oldest daughter, Krystal, graduated with honors from nursing school. They purchased a new home in nearby Carl Junction, Mo., and their youngest daughter, Madison, entered middle school. But, understandably so, the couple was forever changed that fateful day.

“It restores faith in humanity,” said Brad, recalling how the community of friends and neighbors rallied together in the wake of citywide devastation. “It does impact your outlook on life. It makes you want to pay it forward and do good things.”

One way the Beechers are paying it forward is through scholarship support for K-State chemical engineering students. Brad, a 1988 chemical engineering graduate, remembers how scholarship support affected his own educational experience.

“Scholarships allowed me to get through school without debt and get started in life on the right foot,” he said. “I think that’s important because college costs just keep going up.”

By endowing a scholarship through payments over five years, the Beechers hope to make a long-term difference for Kansas State University, its engineering students and the engineering industry as a whole.

“It’s so important that kids get through engineering school,” Brad said. “We need new engineers because we have a lot of Baby Boomers who will be retiring. To the extent that we can remove financial obstacles from their path, this will only help society.”

Through their close-knit community and their K-State family, the Beechers witnessed how a helpful society can turn tragedy into triumph. Now, they hope their gift will likewise empower K-State students to turn obstacles into opportunities. 

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