Alumni / Winter 2018

Alumnus Grant Wilkins crusades against polio

In hopes that students there will dedicate their lives to vital international causes, Grant Wilkins and his second wife, Marlene, created the Grant and Marlene Wilkins Endowed Scholarship Fund at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. Photo: Brian Von Schulz

Grant Wilkins (BA ’47) has dedicated his life to eradicating polio. For more than two decades he has traveled the globe, sharing his story in an effort to raise money for PolioPlus, a Rotary International Program aimed at eliminating the disease. He also distributes vaccines in the countries he visits.

It’s an important, personal mission: At 25, Wilkins contracted bulbar polio, a fatal form of the disease that paralyzes the throat.

“I wasn’t supposed to survive, but I had a tracheotomy that prevented me from getting pneumonia and dying from that,” Wilkins says. His first wife, Diane, also contracted the disease and was totally paralyzed. She remained in an iron lung respirator for the next 13 years, until her death in 1964.

Those experiences gave Wilkins the motivation to wipe out the disease around the world, and his efforts have paid off: In 1986, shortly after he retired and dedicated himself full time to Rotary International’s longtime effort to fight the disease, there were 350,000 cases of polio worldwide. In 2016, that number was just 30.

Wilkins’ experience with polio was not only the catalyst for his humanitarian work, but also for giving back and helping students at DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. He hopes some of those students will dedicate their lives to other vital international causes.

Wilkins and his second wife, Marlene, created the Grant and Marlene Wilkins Endowed Scholarship Fund at the Korbel School. In April 2016, they funded a charitable gift annuity at DU and designated their scholarship as the beneficiary of that annuity.

“I was really pleased to find out that DU had 1,500 foreign students from 92 different countries, because Rotary’s goal worldwide is world peace and understanding,” says Wilkins, who in 2015 was awarded the Korbel School’s Humanitarian Award. “Everything we do, whether it’s health or hunger or educating people, everything is zeroed in on world peace. And as long as there is hunger, ignorance, disease or poverty, we are not going to have world peace.”

 

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