e-mail us


Passing on ideals through the Andrews Scholars


Idealists, it is said, pass through three stages. When young, they work to change the world. In middle age, they work because it is right. In later years, they work out of simple charity.

I suspect that most of us can tick off names of aging, bone-tired compatriots in revolution who have never given up the struggle. Many read this paper.

Yet there is a special quality to young idealists. Their fresh perspectives renew us.

I experienced this renewal on a recent evening spent with four Notre Dame undergraduates. They came to Kansas City to volunteer their summer to work with the needy.

Sharon Bui, Brendan Egan, Karen Ron and Megan Sheehan are Andrews Scholars. They are part of a program named after the late Jim Andrews, the affable and idealistic former managing editor of the National Catholic Reporter who in 1970, with his friend John McMeel, cofounded Universal Press Syndicate.

The two men’s open field approach to syndicated publishing quickly ruffled feathers in the previously placid comic-strip business, most notably with the introduction of the politically trenchant “Doonesbury” by Garry Trudeau. That innovative strip turned out to be only a page in the first chapter of a new book in American publishing.

Andrews, however, would not live to see his dream take full shape. He died in 1980 at age 44.

I remembered his large, open face as I listened to these latest Andrews Scholars speak of the good deeds they are being enabled to do in his name. Sharon and Karen are assisting with summer programs offered by a Catholic church and a Catholic school. Brendan is living at a Catholic Worker house and teaching English to some of the residents. Megan works with immigrants at a community center. I sensed the dawn of insight as they realized that they themselves will be the lasting recipients of their own generosity. I thought back, moved by their youthful zeal, to a time when I was close to their age. I remembered a similarly humid June evening in 1968 -- when I first met Jim Andrews.

I was 24 and Andrews was 31. Only three months before, he had left Ave Maria, then a Catholic weekly magazine published at Notre Dame, to come to NCR. His enthusiasm for life was as clear as a thunderclap on a Kansas plain.

His lust for life had much to do with the hopes and dreams that are part of being a young father. He was obviously proud of his wife, Kathy, and their two sons, Hugh, 2 years, and Jim, only 2 months.

Jim and Kathy invited me into their newly rented home where I spoke for hours about Vietnam, from which I had just returned as a civilian volunteer, and how the war was torturing so many. They and the NCR staff huddled with me in their small living room. Jim asked if I had thought about a career in journalism and suggested I give it some thought.

If prayerful intensity alone could end warfare, the Vietnam conflict would have ceased that night.

Following Jim’s death, his family, friends and colleagues confronted a huge vacuum. They had shared Jim’s ideals and his energy and instinctively knew they needed something to commemorate his life and to help fill the new void.

Dick Conklin, associate vice president for university relations at Notre Dame, recalled the early seeds of the Andrews Scholarship program being sown the day of Jim’s funeral. He recalls John McMeel drawing him aside. “Kathy and I want to establish a memorial to Jim at Notre Dame,” Conklin remembers McMeel saying. “We want a memorial that is unique and speaks to the life of the person it remembers.”

Only a few months earlier the Center for Experiential Learning (now the Center for Social Concerns) at Notre Dame had established a summer service project working with local alumni clubs. The aim was to provide students with service experiences during summer months. But many students who wanted to offer a summer of service could not afford to.

An endowment and summer work scholarships in the name of Jim Andrews were the logical answer. Kathy, John McMeel and his wife, Susan, -- the Andrews and McMeel couples had been a unit for years -- soon began approaching friends and business associates for contributions.

Kathy Andrews continued her own style of activism. She soon joined the corporate world, stepping into her husband’s slot at Universal Press Syndicate. Today she is the chief executive officer of the recently renamed Andrews McMeel Universal. John McMeel was to solidify his own connection with NCR, eventually becoming chairman of the board.

Meanwhile, the Andrews Scholars program has grown, from four in 1981 to 29 in 1990 to 80 this year. Since 1981, the program has helped more than 700 summer service projects to blossom.

The program assists local Notre Dame alumni clubs unable to provide the full $1,700 needed for a summer project grant. It encourages local clubs to become independent sponsors. So successful is the Andrews Scholars program that it has been copied by other large universities, including Yale and Stanford.

It is said that idealism is infectious. What is becoming more clear to me is how idealism passes from generation to generation and how important it is to assess the process from time to time.

Thanks, Jim, for your ideals. Thanks to Andrews and McMeel family members, colleagues and friends for passing them on.

Tom Fox is NCR Publisher.

National Catholic Reporter, July 16, 1999