Generous bequest graces award ceremony

At the 41st Annual Nina Mae Kellogg awards Wednesday, the Portland State English department revealed that they have received a $350,000 donation from former a faculty member.

Phyllis Burnam, who died recently, bequeathed the money from her estate and that of her late husband, English professor Tom Burnam.

Certain stipulations arrive with the donation. Every year a percentage of the money will go to a student who wins the Tom and Phyllis Burnam award, recognizing the best work of fiction from a PSU undergraduate.

Donations of this size are rare for the English Department, and members of the faculty expressed gratitude for the money at the awards event.

“We have struggled to fund this event every year,” said Michael Clark, chair of the English department, “over $9,000 was given away in awards tonight.”

The Kellogg awards are an event often overlooked, and Clark says the English department is working hard to encourage people to help.

He says the news of the donation was exciting.

“There was a very pleased reaction from the audience,” he said, “a happy sigh.”

Already remembered with fond memories, Tom Burnam was known for writing the “Dictionary of Misinformation” and appearing on the Tonight Show with former host Johnny Carson.

Closer to home he’s remembered as the faculty member who took the English department’s meetings minutes in iambic pentameter.

“A departments meetings are a mirage of misinformation and useless verbiage, the fact that Tom was able to put it in iambic pentameter is a literary achievement on par with anything Shakespeare accomplished,” said Clark with a smile.