Honoring Their Son by Helping Others

Pat and Helen Sheahan

Helen & Pat Sheahan smiling

Pat and Helen Sheahan’s son Michael was one of two applicants tied for a state-sponsored scholarship. The decision of who received the scholarship was decided by a coin toss; Michael lost.

Fortunately, losing the scholarship didn’t prevent Michael from attending the University of Pennsylvania to study engineering. But the memory of losing the scholarship by something so random stayed with the Sheahan family.

Michael never got to finish his engineering degree. He died in a car accident in 2008 before starting his sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania. To honor his memory, and to make additional scholarship opportunities available, the Sheahan family decided to create the Michael Sheahan Memorial Scholarship.

“When Michael died, a large portion of my vision of our future died,” Helen said. “This scholarship in his name has become a way we can keep alive what Michael might have accomplished in his life.”

“We established this scholarship to help other people,” Pat added, “but we’ve found they are helping us more than we’re helping them.”

Providing a Path to a Better Life

Pat and Helen both grew up in rural Wisconsin and received scholarships that helped them go to college. Today both are retired, but they recognize that education is the clearest path to a better life.

Unlike most scholarships, which only apply to a student’s first year, the Sheahans’ scholarship provides funds for four years of college. No specific grade point average is required to keep the scholarship because, Pat said, “We felt kids should have an ability to find themselves. We don’t want a kid to be scared that if he takes a risk, he’s going to lose his scholarship.”

Each year the recipient is chosen by the staff at Memorial High School, where Michael was a student. They look for students with leadership potential who are highly regarded by their teachers and peers, but who may have missed out on other scholarships by the equivalent of a coin toss, as Michael had.

To date, the Michael Sheahan Memorial Scholarship has funded 13 students.

Building a Connection

The Sheahans meet each year’s recipient and his or her parents and stay involved in their lives.

Helen said, “A four-year scholarship allows time to get to know them. We’re interested in the classes they take, how they are faring during COVID.” Several times a year Pat and Helen go out to dinner with each recipient and their parents.

The annual Berbee Derby fun run has become the strongest tradition connecting the Sheahans with the young people they support. “We realized that kids come home from college at Thanksgiving,” Helen explained. “We decided to invite the kids and their families to participate.”

The Sheahan family now has the largest non-company Berbee Derby team. It’s an extended family affair for the Sheahans as well, one that honors Michael’s memory.

Growing the Fund With a Legacy Gift

Pat and Helen chose to establish their fund at MCF “because they are warm, caring people who are willing to work with us and meet our needs,” Pat explained. They have endowed their fund so that the scholarship will continue to be awarded long into the future.

Pat and Helen plan to further fund the scholarship as part of their estate plan, by naming it as beneficiary of a portion of their individual retirement accounts.

Pat said, “These kids are going on to do great things in their lives. It is a joy to be a small part of that. Missing Michael is a little less hard because of the scholarship recipients and our relationship with them.”

Learn how to start a fund at MCF.