Indiana State University Newsroom

Immigrant family receives posthumous degree on behalf of late Indiana State student

September 28, 2015

It had been decades since Gretchen Lueken stepped foot on Indiana State University's campus when she arrived at the Scott College of Business in early September.

Her son, Eckhard Lueken, had been working toward a bachelor's degree in marketing before he had to leave the university in the summer of 1972 because of a lack of financial means.

His 90-year-old mother had always hoped that her son would receive his degree, having overcome challenges he faced as an immigrant who came to the U.S. as a child who did not speak English. Last month her wish came true when the Scott College awarded Eckhard Lueken's family the degree.

"My son had a hard time paying for college, even though he would come home to Indianapolis and work nights at Kroger to make it through the semesters, and he just couldn't finish his degree," said Gretchen Lueken, who lives in Indianapolis. "We, me, my husband and our three children, came to the U.S. in November 1953 and had to start over. All of my kids were born in Germany but they adjusted easier than I did when we came to the U.S., even though they didn't know the language."

What makes Indiana State an amazing institution, said Brien Smith, dean of the Scott College of Business, is its ability to provide great opportunities to students who face extraordinary challenges.

"Many of our students face financial difficulties and may be the first person in their family to ever attend college," Smith said. "The spirit of our student body is to overcome these monumental odds and succeed in a world that mocks their chances. Eckhard Lueken's perseverance in life embodies so much of the great spirit that is our college and our university."

Despite not being able to obtain his degree, Gretchen Lueken said her son was successful in starting Fountain Factory - an Indianapolis-based business that made concrete statues - in July of 1973. A bachelor with no children, Eckhard Lueken operated the business until 2006, six year before his death in November of 2012, at the age of 63.

As Gretchen Lueken's 90th birthday approached this year on March 26 - a birthdate she shares with Eckhard Lueken - her grandson, Damian Vaughan, wanted to surprise her with more than a party.

"I'm getting my architecture license in California right now and as I pass my exams I can see my Oma get more and more excited for me," Damian Vaughan said. "It left me thinking about Eckhard and how he was never able to finish his degree before he passed away. Even though he wasn't able to finish his degree, my uncle was able to put to use what he learned at Indiana State to help start the business, so I called up Indiana State to see how far along he was on his degree and got going on the process to get my uncle's diploma."

When he reached out to Indiana State's Office of Registration and Records in early March he discovered that his uncle had earned 101 credit hours toward his bachelor's degree in marketing.

"I tried not to get my hopes up because, I figured, what did the university really have to gain from doing this?" he said. "I knew that it would make a difference to a 90-year-old woman and I thought maybe that might be enough. At every turn of the process I found people at Indiana State who went out of their way to help me with this gift for my Oma."

Originally planned as a surprise for his grandmother's birthday, it took nearly six more months to get the diploma. But it was well-worth the wait, Damian Vaughan said, when he finally broke the news to his grandmother on the morning of the ceremony.

"I originally told her that we had wanted to go to Terre Haute and see Eckhard's campus and meet the dean, but it was only that morning that we told her the full story. When I told her what we were doing that day she cried," he said. "During the drive over, she talked endlessly about things my uncle had done like she was going over in her mind all of the things that led up to that moment."

The present turned out to be even more than Damian Vaughan had hoped when he, his friend Monika Jolly, Gretchen Lueken, her daughter G.G. Vaughan and son-in-law Al Vaughan arrived at Federal Hall for the informal ceremony, where they were greeted by Dean Brien Smith, Associate Dean Bruce McLaren and Paul Schikora, chair of the department of marketing and operations.

"I was very surprised and thought it was wonderful that they greeted us and spent time with us," Gretchen Lueken said. "I was so happy and almost couldn't believe it was possible after so many years when they gave me the diploma in a frame. The people at the college had to put a lot of work and time into get everything together, and I'm grateful that they did."

That work made a dream possible for an entire family, said Al Vaughan, Eckhard Lueken's brother-in-law.

"When Damian started talking about this, I thought there was no chance a business school would make an effort like this, so I was amazed when it all worked out," he said. "Eckhard was a successful man, even without a degree, but this was icing on the cake."

"I didn't think it would ever be possible when Damian proposed this, but when it happened it was done with so much grace and caring and unbelievable involvement in my brother's story," said Gigi Vaughan, Eckhard Lueken's sister. "I think my brother was there and was pleased. My mom is the kind of person who does not like to leave things unfinished, so my son did this as much for her as he did for his uncle, who he was always fond of."

Even though the deans never knew Eckhard Lueken, their willingness to learn about his story didn't go unnoticed by the family.

"You could see in Oma's eyes how important it was to her, and the official diploma they had framed for us now hangs at her house in the hallway below a picture of my uncle," Damian Vaughan said. "It was a really nice moment and a nice tribute to my uncle and my grandparents who had wanted this for a long time."

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or - Paul Schikora, chair of the marketing and operations department, Brien Smith, dean of the Scott College of Business, and Bruce McLaren, associate dean in the Scot College of Business, pose for a photo with Gretchen Lueken, the mother of a former Indiana State University student who was awarded a posthumous degree at a ceremony on Sept. 4. - The family of Eckhard Lueken poses for a picture after accepting beign awarded the former Indiana State Univeristy student's diploma at a ceremony on Sept. 4 at the Scott College of Business. - Brien Smith, dean of the Scott College of Business, presents Gretcvhen Lueken, the mother of former Indiana State University student Eckhard Lueken, with Eckhard's diploma at a ceremony at the college on Sept. 4.