The faces of the elementary school children Heshmat Mirsepassi taught in her native Iran lingered in her mind for decades. Many of those children came to school with just a crust of bread to eat for the entire day.
One day, she vowed, she would have enough money to help them.
Her husband, Dr. Taghi Mirsepassi, fulfilled that vow this year, using money his wife saved and additional funds to establish the $1 million Heshmat Mirsepassi Endowed Scholarship Fund at the University of La Verne.
It was his wife’s dying wish.
And it is an investment that will pay off far beyond the students who are awarded the scholarship.
“If a student becomes a doctor, an engineer, or a computer scientist, many more people are going to get help,” Mirsepassi said.
Now a resident of Claremont, Mirsepassi, 97, grew up in Sari, Iran. By high school, math and science had captured his attention, and he pursued a Master of Science in Mining, Methodology, and Petroleum at the University of Tehran.
While staying at his father’s friend’s house, he met the man’s daughter — a young beautiful school teacher named Heshmat. Though marriage was not at the front of his mind, Mirsepassi said the two families thought Taghi and Heshmat were a good match.
“She was very much a loving person,” he said.
They married, and Heshmat gave up her career as a teacher to be a homemaker. The couple eventually relocated to the U.S., where Mirsepassi obtained master’s and doctoral degrees.
He worked for Aerojet Rocketdyne in California for 13 years, and later took on consulting positions at Aerojet and General Dynamics at its Pomona division. All the while, Mirsepassi noticed his wife regularly putting money in a small box. He would ask her what she was doing, but she declined to answer.
“You don’t need to save money,” Dr. Mirsepassi said. “I’ll get you whatever you want.”
She finally revealed her secret a week before she died.
“She called me and said, ‘What is in that box is for students. Don’t spend any of it for anything else.’ She was very clear and I knew she was serious.”
Dr. John Khanjian, a senior adjunct faculty member who is one of Mirsepassi’s neighbors, introduced him to the University of La Verne.
After learning about the university and its mission, touring the campus, and meeting students, Mirsepassi knew he had found a home for a scholarship fund that would have made his wife happy.
“Dr. Mirsepassi’s passion to help University of La Verne students speaks volumes in that he has no personal ties to the university prior to establishing this scholarship,” University of La Verne President Devorah Lieberman said. “He chose us because he shares and supports our mission of cultural and interfaith diversity. This gift will no doubt help many students, and I thank him for his generosity.”
The scholarship is open to Muslim students with financial need. It complements a range of other scholarships offered by the university to support students of many cultural backgrounds.
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