Donald Lahr and his wife Cindy recently decided to fund scholarships at the School of Education. Their decision came from Lahr’s own life experiences – and the impact education has had on his life.
Lahr’s mother passed away when he was four, and his father struggled to provide for him and his two siblings. At times they were homeless if not for help from some of their relatives, but his father always aspired to send his children to college.
“My father had to start working at an early age so he wanted me to attain an education beyond what he had. As a kid, I grew up wanting to go to IU, but my father had other ideas. But visiting the IU campus and talking to counselors helped me conclude that going to IU was where I really wanted to attend college,” Lahr said.
Getting accepted to IU was a concern. His family continued to struggle at times in finding a place to live, putting food on the table and dealing with some health issues, so academics often took a back burner.
“I didn’t have the best class standing,” said Lahr, joking, “but I was accepted on ‘super secret double probation.’ I know I wouldn’t be accepted in today’s world.”
While at IU, Lahr decided he wanted to be a teacher to grow and challenge students’ minds. He studied social studies education and completed his student teaching at Bedford North Lawrence High School. Times were still tough for Lahr: “I was so poor, I couldn’t afford new clothes. My long sleeved shirts had holes in the elbows, so a friend cut them off and turned them in to short sleeve shirts. They were clean and ironed, but my supervising teacher gave me a very difficult time about my clothes.”
After graduating in 1976, Lahr struggled to find a job teaching in Indianapolis thanks to an abundance of social studies teachers and an injury in a mowing accident. He spent time working for the Indianapolis Parks Department and later as a grant writer for training programs operated by the city. He also later worked for a small company doing fund-raising for schools, churches and nonprofit organizations, eventually owning the company. However, financial struggles affected him once again: when he was diagnosed with cancer and went through surgery and chemotherapy, he found himself homeless and later had to declare bankruptcy on his large medical bills.
“If it wasn’t for some friends and having my car to sleep in at times, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said.
After completing his cancer treatment, he worked temp jobs to earn money, including at a special needs housing program that also provided a place to live. Life for him became easier, and he eventually met Cindy. Together, they worked to create the Iife they have today. Don found a job working for Charles Schwab and built a career in the financial services sector.
“Having Cindy as a part of my life has helped me become who I am today,” Lahr said. “She agreed to marry me when I had nothing and she helped me become a better and stronger person.”
Now, the Lahrs will help today’s School of Education students through scholarships: “We recognized that we could help facilitate making a difference in someone’s life. We’re in a position to make a real difference and leave a legacy that will create opportunity for future students to become teachers to inspire, educate and challenge the next generations. We’re starting with some small annual donations to fund a scholarship but gradually will do more until ultimately, IU will be the final beneficiary to my IRA.”
Says Lahr, “I think Indiana is a wonderful university, and with this scholarship, we will create opportunity for students to become our future teachers that will be so needed.”