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North Park's Servant Leaders

Joan Bickner C'65 and Bruce Bickner A'61

Giving their time, talent, and treasure is a way of life for Joan and Bruce Bickner of Sycamore, Ill. They volunteer and share resources, focused where they can help initiate a project and make a difference, including North Park University.

“The Bickners are remarkable leaders for us and many other institutions,” said Mary Surridge, North Park vice president of development and alumni relations. “We are grateful for their example of devotion and encouragement. They have always been great partners in advancing the mission of North Park.”

Joan grew up on a Dayton, Iowa, farm, and earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University. Her grandmother is a 1904 North Park music graduate. Because of her family’s University history, and roots in the Evangelical Covenant Church, North Park was the place for Joan. “I never thought about another school,” she said. Bruce earned degrees from DePauw University, Greencastle, Ind., and the University of Michigan Law School, Ann Arbor. But he never forgot the Chicago neighborhood where he grew up, where his family attended North Park Covenant Church, and where he attended North Park Academy.

Today, the Bickners are Founders’ Circle members, significant contributors to capital campaigns, and sponsors of the University’s affiliation with Working in the Schools, a literacy program at nearby Hibbard Elementary School. Bruce is a longtime member of the University board of trustees, and twice was interim University president. “This school really believes in preparing people for lives of significance and service,” he said. “This is not a motto. It is an expectation. We expect it of students, and they ought to expect of us that we prepare them for such lives.”

Bruce and Joan met in 1965 when she was a registered nurse at Swedish Covenant Hospital, Chicago, and he was attending law school. She moved to Ann Arbor at Bruce’s urging, and became a head pediatric surgical nurse at the University of Michigan Hospital. They married in 1967.

Joan devoted herself to a nursing career, family, and volunteering with the kinesiology program at the University of Michigan beginning in 1997, where the Bickners’ daughter, Julie, was a student. Joan dedicated time to the Swedish Covenant Hospital Nurses Alumni Association, plus Sycamore-area organizations including the Kishwaukee Community Hospital Foundation; Hope Haven, an organization that serves people living with homelessness; a Covenant Church camping ministry; the local humane society; and others. The Bickners also raised three children: Brian, married to Amy, parents of three daughters, Sycamore; Kevin, married to Marcia, parents of two sons, Aurora, Ill.; and Julie, Pasadena, Calif. Brian, Kevin, and Julie each attended the University of Michigan.

Joan served on the University of Michigan’s Kinesiology Campaign Council through 2011, assisting with developing donor support that helped the department become the School of Kinesiology. Joan was the longest-serving council volunteer, and was presented the first Dean’s Medal in 2011. The school now has more than 800 students, and enjoys a top-five national academic ranking. An auditorium and an endowed professorship both bear their family foundation’s name. In 2007, Michigan presented the Bickners the David B. Hermelin Award for Fundraising Volunteer Leadership. Bruce chaired the law school’s Michigan Difference Campaign, and in 2012, he was named a distinguished alumnus.

After law school, Bruce held a federal clerkship in Milwaukee, and then joined the Chicago law firm of Sidley & Austin, where he was a partner. He then began a 27-year agribusiness career, joining a Sidley client, DeKalb AgResearch, DeKalb, Ill., a seed company. Bruce became chairman and chief executive officer of DeKalb, advocating for significant investment in the genetic transformation of corn to achieve herbicide and pest resistance. DeKalb was eventually sold to Monsanto, where Bruce was co-president for Monsanto’s global seed business.

In Sycamore, Bruce served on the boards of a community hospital and a local bank, and is an advisor to the Kishwaukee YMCA. Joan has served more than a decade on the Hope Haven board of directors. There, she and other members of Hillcrest Covenant Church organize a Christmas party for children of people who are homeless. Joan and her church group provide birthday presents to Hope Haven clients, and she and Bruce have helped others organize dinners for the organization’s clients.

Next Steps

Read more from the Summer 2013 North Parker.

Joan and Bruce Bickner