The news shook Asta Statkevicius, PHARMD 2012, with emotion.
Last February, the recent UIC Pharmacy graduate learned that she had been selected as the inaugural recipient of the Kirklys Family Scholarship, an annual award created by the generosity of Therese Kirklys, BS 1977.
UIC clinical assistant professor Brad Cannon, Statkevicius’ preceptor, informed Statkevicius of the honor and shared a bit of Kirklys’ story and background.
Quickly, Statkevicius noted the similarities. Both women had come to the U.S. from Lithuania as children, each facing the challenges of adjusting to a new country and culture. Both had also juggled pharmacy studies with motherhood, committed to crafting better lives for themselves and their families.
“I started crying as I learned Therese’s story knowing full well some of the challenges she faced and sacrifices she had to make,” says Statkevicius, who earned her degree on May 3. “Seeing the parallels between Therese’s experience and mine makes this honor that much more special.”
In the fall of 2011, Kirklys established the Kirklys Family Scholarship Fund at UIC’s College of Pharmacy, where both of her sons – John Kirklys, PHARMD 1990, and Andrew Kirklys, PHARMD 1994, – earned their degrees as did Andrew’s wife, Pauline, PHARMD 1995. The annual honor is reserved for a current student who also manages the responsibilities of motherhood.
“I wanted to set up the scholarship for those facing responsibilities similar to those I had faced as a student,” Kirklys says. “It’s intended for someone motivated to go to school, but overloaded with responsibilities.”
Kirklys says she had long ago made a personal pledge to help others facing challenges similar to those she had encountered as a mother attending pharmacy school. The Kirklys Family Scholarship Fund is the result of that philanthropic spirit.
“I hope the scholarship offers a bit of a helping hand to others and sparks their own success stories,” Kirklys says.
Indeed, Kirklys knows a thing or two about crafting a successful professional career.
After graduating from UIC in 1977, Kirklys soon found herself delivering on the promises she made to many pharmacists and friends she had met throughout her schooling.
“I told so many that once I graduated, I would fill in for them and give them time off,” Kirklys recalls. “And many of them kept me to it.”
As pharmacists increasingly called Kirklys to plug a shift, she had to seek out others who could fill shifts in the 24/7 pharmacological world. With no shortage of opportunity and eager to help pharmacists enjoy a much-needed break, Kirklys created a roster of former classmates and other pharmacists willing to help.
“Word got out that when you needed help, call Therese,” Kirklys says. “Things just started to snowball from there.”
As the requests poured in, Kirklys founded Pharmstaff in 1982 to provide qualified pharmacists for temporary and permanent placements. Under Kirklys’ direction, the Chicago-based agency flourished, becoming a national leader in pharmacy staffing and holding a presence in states throughout the country.
“We grew by referral and because of our strong reputation, which is everything in the field of pharmacy,” Kirklys says. “We didn’t compromise. We held the highest professional standards and that gave us valuable credibility.
“[Building Pharmstaff] was like climbing Mount Everest – one step at a time and then you’re at the top,” she adds.
As Pharmstaff evolved and thrived, however, Kirklys became less and less involved in pharmacy as the duties of business ownership, such as overseeing Pharmstaff’s administrative responsibilities and adhering to swelling government regulations, took over and began to zap Kirklys’ energy.
By 2002, two decades after founding Pharmstaff, Kirklys prepared to exit the business. While a long list of suitors pursued the staffing enterprise, Kirklys elected to sell to the Florida-based Medical Staffing Network.
“In leading Pharmstaff, I was being pulled away from pharmacy, which is what I really enjoyed,” Kirklys says. “When I finally sold, there was a feeling of relief. It was time.”
An ardent supporter of the pharmacy profession, Kirklys has a resume littered with professional affiliations that speak to her passion for the industry. She was a founding member of the Women’s Pharmacy Association, a past president of the Greater Chicago Chapter of the Illinois Pharmacist Association, and a member of the American Society of Hospital Pharmacists, the American Pharmaceutical Association, and more.
“I believed in my profession and being involved was inspirational and motivational,” says Kirklys, who held a passion for math and science as a child. “I created a professional network that became a real jewel in my life.”
Kirklys’ professional involvement took on added personal meaning in the early 1990s when she brokered a deal to supply Lithuanian medical students with updated textbooks.
In 1991, Kirklys journeyed to her native Lithuania at the invitation of the Dean of the College of Pharmacy at the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences. It was her first trip back to the European nation since leaving as a child. There, Kirklys saw military tanks as well as the Minister of Health and witnessed the spirit of the Lithuanian people alongside the oppression they faced under Soviet rule.
“It was an unbelievable, eye-opening experience,” she says.
Visiting the university and its students, Kirklys saw outdated medical literature and tattered textbooks. It was a problem she would work to solve upon returning to the U.S.
At a medical convention in New Orleans, Kirklys approached various printers and inquired about older textbook editions. She soon spearheaded an effort in which millions of dollars in medical textbooks were distributed to Lithuanian medical students.
“The printers didn’t have to destroy usable textbooks and we were helping the students help themselves,” Kirklys says of the win-win effort.
It’s a similar spirit for helping others that propelled Kirklys to establish the Kirklys Family Scholarship Fund. She says pharmacy opened up a world of opportunities and friendships for her, reason enough to support others, including mothers like Statkevicius, find their way into “a wholesome professional group” that delivers life-saving services.
“Pharmacists really are the unsung heroes in the medical world,” Kirklys says. “So often, they’re finding better solutions, halting misuse, and helping people live better lives.”
Cannon says many UIC pharmacy students wear different hats in their lives, including parenthood, making the Kirklys Family gift a timely one.
“We have so many who sacrifice so much to be here and work hard to push through a challenging curriculum,” Cannon says. “Therese and her family are clearly reaching out to people who face the challenges of parenting and attending school.”
Cannon identifies Statkevicius a fitting first recipient for the Kirklys Family Scholarship, calling her “responsible, on task, and eager to lend a hand.” Her ability to balance motherhood with a rigorous academic slate, Cannon says, serves as “a testament to her tenacity, energy, and spirit.”
While Statkevicius says the award will help her put a dent in the student loans she accumulated while attending UIC, she believes it also speaks to the positive ripple effect the Kirklys family is working to create.
“In the coming years, so many students will benefit from the goodwill of the Kirklys family and this gift, which is clearly inspiring others to do more and be more.”