Veteran Student Success lounge dedicated

William A. and Laurel A. Eckholm will help ensure a safe space for veterans

Jonathan Santer/RIT

Benefactors Bill and Laurie Eckholm attended the dedication of The William A. and Laurel A. Eckholm Veterans Lounge at the office of Veteran Student Success. The space, above Global Village, serves as a safe haven where military-affiliated students, veterans and their families, can spend time, talk with peers, and find resources.

An important space for RIT students who are military-affiliated, veterans, and their families, now has a name and a refresh thanks to benefactors who want to support members of the U.S. armed forces.

The William A. and Laurel A. Eckholm Veterans Lounge at the office of Veteran Student Success was dedicated Friday, attended by the couple, who traveled to Rochester from their home in Arizona. The space, above Global Village, has undergone a complete facelift, with new paint and carpeting, new furniture, a refrigerator, coffee pot, popcorn machine, microwave, a television, and two computers for students to use.

More importantly, it’s a haven where student veterans may find resources, a peer to talk with, or just a safe place to unwind. In the past year, it has seen a 75 percent increase in office use and event attendance.

“When I found out that RIT was seeking funding to renovate the veteran’s lounge and for student military-related support, I thought, ‘How could I say no?’” Bill Eckholm said. “My wife and I wanted to give back to RIT in return for what I learned about becoming a businessman. The biggest gift we could ever ask for is seeing students succeed. There’s enormous satisfaction in finding success, and I want to help students reach for the stars.”

Chad Van Gorder, director for RIT’s Veteran Student Success, said the Eckholms’ gift has made a tremendous impact for support for veteran-affiliated students.

“Their generosity has created a space for veterans to connect with fellow students, a safe space for students to be themselves, a collaborative space to do the work required for their degree programs, and a place to connect with staff members who are able to assist them in areas of academic, professional, and personal growth as they transition from military service, into college, and on to their next journey in life,” Van Gorder said.

In addition, some of the students may also receive financial support as part of the gift.

Eckholm, originally from Chicago, was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. After the war, he lived in Rochester and got a job that supplied products to electrical engineers and contractors. In 1976 and 1977, he took night classes at RIT to learn effective business management and strategic marketing skills.

“I was running a business at the time, and I needed (practical) training on how to run a business, and it was suggested that I go to RIT night school, and I did,” Eckholm said at the dedication. “And they delivered.”

He said he never had any intention of getting a degree from RIT and left to pursue his own successful businesses. He started a fire protection equipment business, sold it, and ran a worldwide fire protection and suppression agency. He holds numerous patents for developing life-saving fire suppression mechanisms in law enforcement cars and military vehicles.

He also volunteers, most notably as a board member for Childhelp, a national charity that works to fight child abuse, and he is a staunch supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

His donation wasn’t the only reconnection with RIT. On Friday, just prior to the dedication, Eckholm received his associate degree in applied arts and sciences through the Completer Program at RIT’s School of Individualized Study.

The Eckholms said they are happy to help RIT’s students, particularly veterans.

“There are two things in the world I have a great deal of time for: children’s charities and veterans,” Eckholm said. “When I learned it was for a veterans’ lounge, and that it was really needed, that sold it. We’re just honored to be able to do our little piece.”

He handed out collectable Challenge Coins to all of the veterans in attendance as a keepsake.

“Anyone who is not a veteran, there’s a thing that’s called “Peace through Power,” he said. “And veterans are the power. And every one of you who served, you are the power. And that’s why we’re able to enjoy the lifestyle we have today.”

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