Alumni Couple Makes an Impact for Students

February 8, 2024

Jon ‘70 and Karen Heimbigner ’69 believe in the transformative nature of an Eastern Washington University education and the power of athletic competition to build community region-wide.

The alumni sweethearts, who are preparing to celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary, have made gifts in support of Eastern for a total of 42 years – 33 of them consecutive.

Their generous $100,000 gift, announced last fall at a home football game, established the Jon and Karen Heimbigner Scholar Athlete Fund. The fund will help student athletes representing all sports, genders and abilities who maintain a 3.5 GPA and major in business or education.

“We are proud to support EWU Athletics by giving directly through our IRA. We lower our taxable income, while supporting our favorite teams. It’s a win for everyone!” the couple says.

The Heimbigners have dedicated their lives to making an impact for others. Karen pursued advanced courses to support her work as an educator, spending 27 years as a teacher and department chair at North Central High School.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in finance, with a minor in economics at Eastern, Jon immediately pursued five certifications from the American Institute of Banking. Combined with his competitive nature, Jon’s education opened the door to a 50-year successful career in the banking and telecommunications industries.

“Karen and I both give Eastern a lot of credit for our successful careers,” Jon says. “Eastern gave me the tools to go out into the business world and have a decorated business career and also a decorated sports career.”

The Heimbigners’ history with Eastern covers four generations, beginning with Jon’s father, who earned his teaching degree while farming and raising his family in the Ritzville/Odessa area. Two of their three children, a daughter-in-law and Jon’s youngest brother all earned degrees from EWU. The Eagle tradition continues today as the couple have a granddaughter who attends EWU and another, still in high school, who plans to attend.

Though they attended Eastern at the same time during the late 1960s, Jon and Karen didn’t meet until she’d earned a bachelor’s degree in home economics and was in her first year of teaching in Odessa.

Jon was finishing up his degree at Eastern and was home for the holidays when his dad invited three young women who were first-year teachers in the community over to dinner.

“I think it was a set-up. As a matter of fact, I know it was,” says Jon. Karen later invited Jon to the school’s holiday party for teachers – and the rest was history.

“Meeting my wife was the best thing that ever happened to me,” shares Jon.

Throughout his life and into his senior years, Jon excelled as an athlete, competing in track and field, basketball, tennis and softball. His passion for excellence and competition also spurred his involvement in the community.

Since the early 1970s, Jon and Karen have made community service an integral part of their lives, serving as volunteer leaders, coaches, and mentors with several regional sports organizations and Young Life. Jon has been inducted into seven different Halls of Fame in the region for the impact he made in the local sports community. Even in retirement Karen continues to give back as a beloved 16-year substitute teacher in the five Spokane city high schools and faculty mentor at NC.

In 2022, the Heimbigners received the EWU Alumni Association’s highest recognition, the Lifetime Achievement Award, for their professional achievements and lifelong community service.

As alumni and fans, the couple remain deeply involved with EWU as long-time football tailgaters and season ticket holders for football, basketball and volleyball. “We can’t make it to all of those games,” says Jon, “but we try to make it to as many as we can.”

The Heimbigners continue to make monthly contributions to the Eagle Athletic Fund at the Golden Eagle member level. Their total giving has reached over $137,000 as of February 2024.

The couple’s generous contributions provide life-changing opportunities for student athletes who, in turn, exhibit outstanding character volunteering throughout the community and ranking as academic leaders within the Big Sky Conference.

Learn how you can support EWU student athletes by visiting the Eagle Athletic Fund (EAF) website.