Sunny Chen ’06 remembers the first time she met John and Ann Kirkpatrick Runnette ’56.
“I had just co-founded the Wheaton Investment Club with two classmates,” she recalls. “The Runnettes were so supportive of our initiative that they immediately promised seed funding to the investment club!”
Their investment in the club marked the start of a relationship between Chen and the Runnettes that has featured several big surprises.
The first came in 2006, when the economics major and Wheaton Posse Scholar graduated. The Runnettes, who were on campus for Ann Runnette’s 50th Reunion, attended the Posse celebration that followed Commencement. “We just think she’s a lovely person,” Ann Runnette says. “When she graduated, we met her parents and many of her family members at graduation.”
The Runnettes were so moved by the ceremony that they decided to name their Wheaton Fund Scholarship in Chen’s honor. “I was very surprised and humbled,” admits Chen, who prefers to see the honor as symbolic.
“I believe the scholarship is not so much about me but represents the possibilities of self-motivation, passion and hard work when combined with the right support—nobody does anything alone.”
“We like to be able to reach out and help young people,” says John Runnette, a former businessman. “That’s what it is about for Ann and me.” And he adds that the couple admired Chen’s determination. “Sunny came to Wheaton and she applied herself to take advantage of all the opportunities that were available to her and she worked hard to be successful.”
Now a treasury associate for Numura International in Hong Kong, Chen says the Runnettes’ generous support for students and higher education “has inspired me to volunteer as a student mentor and career advisor so that I might continue their tradition of having a positive impact on young people.
“The Runnettes also embody the entrepreneurial spirit of creativity and hard work. My longer-term career goal is to establish a business myself; I can only hope to follow in their footsteps,” says Chen.
The couple’s generosity inspired her to return to campus this fall for another purpose: this time to surprise them.
At Homecoming, the college dedicated the newly renovated main lounge in the Meadows Residence Hall in the Runnettes’ honor. Among the students who gathered for the ceremony were the current recipients of the Sunny Chen ’06 Scholarship and their namesake, who flew from Hong Kong to applaud the couple’s generosity to the students and the institution.
When John Runnette spoke, he ended with a simple message to the students in the audience. “When you grow older—and if you’re lucky, you will—remember to reach back and help the people who are behind you.”
Nicki Pardo photos