‘Miracles Do Happen’
Tragedy inspires opportunity to pay it forward for students in need
All was going well for Rintelmann ’14, who found a way to pursue her passions for science and music as a chemistry major and music minor at Allegheny.
But then she received the call. Her mother had stage IV gallbladder cancer.
“I didn’t know if I could return to Allegheny for my junior year,” she said. “But my mother was very proud of me and always asked, even when she was suffering the most, for me to return to school and continue what I love. So I went back.”
Rintelmann did love Allegheny. She met lifelong friends, built a special friendship with music professors Lowell and Julie Hepler (“who were like father and mother figures to me,” she says) and met her now fiancé, Brennan Murphy ’13, also a chemistry major.
“I wouldn’t have met Brennan if I hadn’t gone back,” she says.
Despite these bright spots during her junior year, things were much different 600 miles away in Leslie, Mich., Rintelmann’s hometown.
“The hardest part was in 2013 during the spring semester of my junior year,” she says. “I had just finished finals, and I couldn’t get in touch with my mom. A friend of hers then called and said I should come home.”
Not long after Rintelmann arrived in Michigan, her mother passed away. Her best friend at Allegheny, Angel’la Wright ’12, had just passed away that April, as well.
“My mother’s passing left me homeless, without parental support and in utter grief at her absence,” Rintelmann says. “I had one older sibling and two younger ones at home, and I was depressed. I wasn’t sure if – or how – I was going to be able to go back to Allegheny.”
After talking with the College’s Financial Aid Office, Rintelmann learned she was a candidate for the Sheridan-Pulwer Student-in-Distress Fund – a fund established by Mitch Pulwer ’75 and his wife, Michol “Miki” Sheridan ’77, to provide emergency scholarship support for eligible students who have experienced a sudden change in family circumstances that has resulted in an increased need for financial assistance.
Those funds, along with support from friends and the Heplers, helped to convince Rintelmann to return to Allegheny to complete her degree.
“There’s no doubt that I wouldn’t have been able to go back without the help of the Sheridan-Pulwer Fund,” says Rintelmann, who just began a graduate program at Indiana University-Bloomington. She hopes to earn her Ph.D. and someday work with small molecules to treat cancer.
“When I learned that I had received this gift, it was such a relief. It was nice to know there were people at Allegheny who wanted me to come back and that I still had that home there.”
Sheridan, who majored in English literature, and Pulwer, who majored in chemistry, say they were inspired to create a fund to help students like Rintelmann because of what occurred during Sheridan’s time at Allegheny.
Sheridan’s experience eerily mimics Rintelmann’s story: When Sheridan was a freshman, her father died unexpectedly, leaving her mother, a nurse, to support Sheridan and her three younger siblings, all 18 months apart.
“I was the oldest and first to go to college. After my father died, my mother could only give me a certain amount of money per year for school – and it wasn’t enough,” Sheridan says. “I really thought I was going to have to go back home, but I remember knowing that I had to continue – not just for my sake, but for my father, who never had the chance to go to college, but who worked long hours so I could.
“By some grace of God,” she continues, “I learned there was a fund set up by someone who had lost a parent in college and that I was a candidate. I learned that year that miracles do happen. To be given a second chance was just incredible, and I never forgot that. This fund is just our way of paying it forward.”
Sheridan and Pulwer also chose Allegheny as a focus of their philanthropy because of their belief in the value of a liberal arts education.
“A liberal arts education is something Miki and I believe is a critical part of personal development. In my global travels, I have found that people from outside of our country value a liberal arts education greatly, so we should never take it for granted,” says Pulwer, who went on to receive his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Buffalo, did a post-doctoral fellowship at Yale University and received his MBA from Washington University St. Louis.
“Allegheny Professor Ed Walsh inspired me to become a chemist, and I give him a tremendous amount of credit. If we can help just one student per year stay in school and receive this type of education, it’s worth it.”
“There’s nothing like a liberal arts education for teaching you critical thinking and humanism,” adds Sheridan, who received a master of liberal arts degree from Washington University. “Allegheny taught me to argue cogently, to think and to write critically. It served as a basis for my career in scientific writing.”
Just like Rintelmann and Murphy, Sheridan and Pulwer met at Allegheny. They married in October 1977 and built successful careers – Pulwer as president of Celgard, a company that makes lithium battery separators, and Sheridan as managing editor for Annals Publishing Co. Both are now retired and have two children, Lauren and Robert.
“I want to convey to the College my profound gratitude for the place that it occupies in my life – the wonderful memories, the stress on academic excellence and the wonderful professors I was lucky enough to call my mentors. I feel grateful. This fund comes from that place of gratitude.”
Miki Sheridan ’77
“I never would have met Miki if she hadn’t come back to Allegheny after her father died,” Pulwer said. “We have a great love for Allegheny. In fact, my Phi Delta Theta brothers and I try to return to the College every year to celebrate the friendships we made. That really sums it up.”
When asked what advice they would give to others thinking about giving back to Allegheny, Sheridan replies, “Don’t think; just do it.”
“I want other students to know that help is there,” Sheridan says. “When the fabric of your life is pulled out from under you, I like knowing that we can be part of helping a student in that situation.”
“It feels great to help students like Chelsea. We wouldn’t have it any other way,” Pulwer adds. “Hearing that our fund helped her finish her senior year and that she is getting her Ph.D. means the world to us.”
They haven’t met, but if Rintelmann had the chance to speak to Sheridan and Pulwer, what would she say?
“I am blessed by their generosity. I will forever be reminded that I would not be in this position without their beneficence,” she says. “Their kindness is going to go farther than they know. I hope to pay it forward for someone else someday.
“I also hope that by sharing my story, it will inspire others to pay it forward, or to find help when it is needed,” she continues. “I want students to know they’re not alone and that Allegheny can help people through difficult times.”
— Heather L. Grubbs
“Allegheny will always be a home to me. I cherish the memories I made, the relationships wrought and the knowledge I gained. I certainly would not be in the place I am today without my education from Allegheny.”
Chelsea Rintelmann ’14