Pearls on a String
College Chaplain Rev. Peter S. Bredlau and Joanna Bredlau '05
Make Gift to HMMS Scholar Program
December 9, 2009
“I tell students that life is like pearls on a string,” says Rev. Peter Bredlau, College Chaplain at Muhlenberg. “Mostly we live life on the string, in the day-to-day, doing laundry, making meals, going to work…but when you look back, there are these moments of revelation that are like pearls, and the fall HMMS (Henry Melchior Muhlenberg Society) Dinner was one of those moments for me.”
Longtime annual supporters of Muhlenberg at the HMMS level, Peter and his wife, Joanna '05, recently made a leadership commitment to the HMMS Scholars Program, which allows gifts to The Muhlenberg Fund of $1,500 or more to be designated to general financial aid. This year was the first year that deserving students received funds from the program. Students who were identified as HMMS Scholars were then invited to the annual fall HMMS reception during Homecoming Weekend. One such Scholar, Elia Wright ’10, gave a speech at the event to thank donors for making a difference in her life (Read "A Priceless Gift").
“I’d been thinking about our giving for the past 18 months, and then Elia got up to speak and it was very compelling,” says Peter, who has served as College Chaplain for ten years since the departure of Rev. Don King. “I found out about the program and life just came together. It made sense to direct our actions and gifts to the HMMS Scholars program.”
“We can’t think of anything that makes a more profound impact than helping students fund their education,” says Joanna.
The American Dream
“Both Joanna and I are first generation college students and both of us had a heavy need for financial aid,” says Peter. “One of the most compelling things that [Muhlenberg President] Randy [Helm] talks about is the direct link between education and democracy.
“Education is linked to the American Dream,” he continues. “For me, being able to fully participate in this experiment we call America is dependent on one’s education. If the opportunities aren’t there, then the foundation upon which we engage as citizens is lacking. And that affects one’s ability to connect the dots in life, to create one’s own string of pearls.”
“Both sets of my grandparents were farmers who were not educated past high school,” says Joanna. “My parents had some college training, but Peter and I are the generation that completed our degrees. Our daughter now fully expects to go to college when she is older, and that’s because, in part, she is reaping the benefits of her parents’ education.”
At left: Joanna Bredlau's paternal grandparents, Margaret and Roy Beckner; At right: Joanna's maternal grandparents, Lauri and Elvira Salo.
Joanna's mother, Ann-Sophie, is the child at far right.
Both Peter and Joanna say that their daughter’s expectation of going to college is a reminder of how a college education benefits more than just the student. “Our children internalize the environment in which they grow up,” says Peter. “Our daughter has the same aspirations as we did and that in and of itself is a hallmark of what is possible through education. Our education has influenced the way she thinks. It is a success that has nothing whatsoever to do with wages.”
Nobody Does it Alone
In turn, the opportunities for success that a college education offers are always dependent on the generosity of others, says Peter. “None of us gets where we are without standing on the shoulders of other people. I don’t care if you’re Bill Gates or Warren Buffet or one of their children.”
Joanna agrees. “Nobody does it alone,” she says. “No matter what they might believe.”
“I would like to say to those few people who think, ‘Nobody helped me get where I am today,’ you are wrong,” says Peter. “First off, at Muhlenberg, even if you didn’t receive a scholarship or financial aid, your education was still partly subsidized by the generosity of alumni, parents and friends.
“Second, your roommate, your friends, your professors and administrators – I’d bet a good many of them received financial aid and you benefited from your relationship with them. And they had something to teach you. The people who worked in Seegers serving your food, the housekeepers and plant operations staff members who worked to keep the campus beautiful – all of these people took care of you to some extent.
“Third, even now, today – many of the people we come in contact with – our daycare providers and teachers, our bankers and preachers and doctors and dentists – many of the people who help us and enrich our lives are where they are today because they were scholarship and financial aid recipients. And that, again, is what makes education so crucial to our democracy. Everyone should have the opportunity to engage and participate, regardless of their ability to pay.”
The Next Generation
“What we want most is for people to realize that you don’t have to be wealthy to do something positive and give someone else an opportunity,” says Peter.
“We don’t want the recipients of our gift to feel guilty or like they owe us something, but we want them to feel like they owe somebody,” he says. “I want Muhlenberg students to commit themselves to being generous when they have the means, to say, ‘I will pass along the opportunity for education that was given to me. I will create the next generation of people who matter.’”