Bernice Tilkens was passionate about education all her life. She came into this world in 1897. In the farming community of Rushford, Wisconsin, she was able to get up to an eighth grade education, but resolved that her children would get much more.
Bernice received a small inheritance of $2,000 early in her life, and although it wasn’t much, she set aside this money for her children’s college fund. As her three children, Neil, Gene, and Joan grew up, they knew they would go to college—the money was there, and it was expected of them. Bernice made sure her kids had plenty of role models to show that poor, country kids can get an education and make something of their lives. The children read biographies about Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and other people who came from humble beginnings and were successful.
The special inheritance was only for education. At one point, Bernice loaned the money to her brother so he could attend college. After he graduated, he paid the loan back so it would be there for the kids. With help from the GI bill, Neil attended Columbia Union College, and the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, eventually receiving a Master of Music. Joan graduated from Loma Linda University with a nursing degree and Gene, also under the GI bill, graduated from Andrews University and UCLA as an engineer.
Bernice made college the most desirous thing in the world for her three children, and she wished to make college a reality for other students at well. The Bernice Tilkens Endowment Fund was created for the purpose of awarding music scholarships to worthy students.