Technical education opportunities for students at Evanston Township High School will expand over the next four years thanks to a grant from the Owen L. Coon Foundation.

The $100,000 grant, to the ETHS Educational Foundation, will help the high school develop to develop additional certification programs in automotive technology, culinary arts and early childhood education.

“We believe in offering our students the opportunity to earn employer-recognized certification in specific career areas because it greatly increases their ability to find jobs and move up on career ladders,” said Shelley Gates, chair of the schools applied sciences and technologies department.

“Certifications earned in high school are a great asset for students planning to go directly into the workforce upon graduation, or for those who need a job to help pay for post-secondary education or training,” Gates added.

The grant is donated in honor of Owen L. Coon, Jr., a 1951 graduate of ETHS. Shortly after graduating from ETHS, Coon served in the Air Force flying missions over North Korea and was decorated with several medals. Upon his return to Evanston, he rekindled his passion for cars and became a professional racecar driver. He recalls: “I’ll never forget my automotive instructor at ETHS. He had us building race cars.”

The Coon Foundation was incorporated in Evanston in 1946 with educational advancement as one of its priorities. Founder and First President, Owen L. Coon, Sr., also a race-car enthusiast, made his initial fortune financing car loans in Evanston at a time when banks refused to venture beyond home mortgages.

Since its inception, the Coon Foundation has been highly focused in its grant giving. “Evanston is where it all started, where the money came from, and where, in my opinion, we should concentrate our efforts at this time,” Owen Coon, Sr. said at one time in connection with the company he built up, General Finance Corporation.

The Coon Foundation has attempted to adhere to this belief over the years by focusing on Evanston institutions, including Northwestern University, Evanston Northwestern Healthcare, and now ETHS.

Fran Caan, executive director of the ETHS Foundation, said, “We are extremely grateful to the board members of the Owen L. Coon Foundation for their foresight and support of the proposal. Richard Briggs, president, and Trey Coon, vice president, were quite diligent in their research of ETHS and its history. They had every reason to be impressed.”

“There are three reasons why we made this gift at this time,” said Richard Briggs.

“First, we recognize that college may not be for everybody and that providing vocational training to students who may not go to college would be helpful.

“Second, while most of the Foundation’s gift-giving over the years has been to Northwestern University, because of Owen Coon’s love for the University, it is important to help the community in which the University exists.

“Third, we learned that the ETHS District 202 Educational Foundation had recently been established. We hope that our gift will encourage other institutions to contribute also.”

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