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Birthday surprise

Birthday surprise

Gita Balakrishnan January 27, 2020

The phone conversation between civil engineering major Ryan Olson ’20 and his grandparents went something like this.

“Hi, Grandpa and Grandma. I’m in this bridge building competition and my team just won. Before our bridge gets transported for the next round, it’s displayed in the conference room at Kettering Labs. Can you come over here next weekend to see it?”

Ryan’s grandparents — Bill Beer Sr. ’61 and Ann Beer — said yes. It was all part of a ruse the extended Beer family had come up with to lure grandpa and grandma to campus.

colorful illustration of a family surprising a grandfather for his birthdayWith Ryan’s made-up story, the family was able to get Bill Sr. and Ann to campus without suspecting something out of the ordinary.

The family had been searching for the perfect way to celebrate the eldest Beer’s milestone 80th birthday. And celebrating on campus was only fitting.

Their Flyer family legacy began with Bill Sr., who graduated with a degree in chemical engineering. Bill Sr. recalled he was a student so long ago that women had no place to  live on campus. They even needed witten permission from their parents to live off campus, somewhere other than home.

He recalls his first residence at Founders Hall. He said he wishes he could have stayed longer in the dorm, on the fifth floor, but some unfortunate circumstances made that year his last in the dorm.

“It was not me,” he said. “But there were some boys who were throwing these little cherry bombs down the stairwell. And well — everyone thought it was coming from the top floor.” He ended up moving to 219 Kiefaber St. the following year.

He loved UD, but it was sheer luck that Bill Sr. chose the school in the first place.

“I had not heard of UD before, but that year, the basketball team made it to the finals of the NIT basketball tournament in New York City,” he said. “They were in the news, so it caught my eye. And, that is why I applied to that school — because I liked basketball.”

Flyer spirit quickly spread through the family.  Nearly two dozen members have since walked on campus.

Three of the four Beer children graduated from UD and subsequently found their spouses at the University. And many of their offspring have at one time visited campus or graduated from here. Two relatives are current students.

“I really can’t remember a time that UD wasn’t a part of my life,” Bill Beer Jr. ’88 said.

When Bill Sr. walked into the conference room at the Kettering Labs building Oct. 5, he could only see the faceless silhouettes of many people standing in front of the large window as the sun turned colorful clothing into dark shadows.

It was when he took several steps into the room that he recognized the shadowy figures as his own family members.

“Surprise!” they all shouted, as Bill Sr. got the shock of his lifetime.

Confusion set in. “I kept wondering, where in the world is this model bridge I came here to look at?” Bill Sr. said.

There was no bridge. But, there was something else the family had in store for the elder Beers. Nearly 40 members of the Beer family came to campus not only to celebrate their patriarch’s birthday but also to unveil something even more special.

As the family encircled Bill Sr. and Ann, Bill Jr. told them that regardless of whether future Beers chose to become Flyers, many more individuals would soon become part of the Beer family legacy — through the William and Ann Beer Family Scholarship.

Bill Jr. and his wife, Lori Hinnenkamp Beer ’89, had wanted to give back to their alma mater for years. The milestone birthday felt like the best time to present their gift both to his parents and UD.

The scholarship helps fund UD’s Flyer Promise program to support student access to and affordability of a UD degree.

“He was stunned, excited, and there were tears,” Bill Jr. said.

The scholarship will be awarded to students pursuing subjects in the STEM field.

“Every time I think about it, I have a very hard time wrapping my mind around it,” Bill Sr. said, “the fact that this will help someone who would otherwise not be able to afford to go to this school. It’s unbelievable to think that even after I’m gone, this scholarship will still be there.”

For Ryan’s part, he’s excited that some high school student is going to be presented with the Beer Scholarship. “I think that is kind of funny,” Ryan said. Grandpa Beer agreed, saying he loved having a last name that could make people smile and laugh.

The family hopes scholarship recipients will take the financial gift and reach their ultimate goals. “UD gave us our start in life,” Bill Jr. said. “The University made us into people who had a good chance after graduation. And that’s exactly what we hope for these students.”

Maybe they will become a future legacy family, like Bill Sr., minus the cherry bombs.

Another Flyer connection: buttons