Professor Jan Achenbach and his wife, Marcia Achenbach ’65 MA, give back through planned gifts
Jan Achenbach

"We have spent most of our lives at Northwestern and have always been happy here." —Marcia Achenbach

In 1963, Jan Achenbach first moved to Evanston with his new wife, Marcia, after being hired as an assistant professor by the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University. The couple was attracted to Northwestern's work in solid mechanics as well as its proximity to Chicago and its cultural offerings. More than 50 years later, Jan is an emeritus professor and one of the University's most celebrated faculty members. Marcia remains a proud alumna. Inspired by the "lifetime of experiences" they have had at Northwestern, the Achenbachs have made a commitment to support the future of their beloved University through their estate plans.

Both Marcia and Jan were born abroad. Marcia spent her early years in the Philippines, later attending boarding schools in Australia, Switzerland, and the United States. A native of the Netherlands, Jan came to Stanford University to study aeronautical engineering shortly after the Sputnik launch, eager to take part in the research that would fuel the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. While at Stanford, Jan met Marcia, a history student; the pair married during Marcia's junior year.

When Jan was offered a position at Northwestern, Marcia took advantage of the opportunity to enroll in a master's degree program in English literature. After graduating and teaching for several years, she acquired a master's degree in social work from the University of Chicago and embarked on a career as a clinical social worker, serving children and families in the Chicago area.

Meanwhile, Jan thrived at Northwestern, quickly becoming a leader in the field of ultrasonics. His research focused on using ultrasound technology to detect cracks and corrosion in safety-critical structures such as aircraft, bridges, and nuclear reactors. In 2003 and 2005, Jan was invited to the White House to receive the nation's highest awards in technology and science, respectively: the National Medal of Technology and the National Medal of Science. Jan was among the first Northwestern recipients of these awards and one of only a small group of scientists who have received both honors.

As a professor, Jan developed deep bonds with both undergraduate and graduate students, serving as a mentor to young engineers and researchers for years beyond graduation. In 2012, his former students honored him by establishing the Jan D. Achenbach Lecture Fund, which brings renowned scientists and engineers to campus to speak on cutting-edge topics.

Today, Jan and Marcia remain active within the Northwestern community. "We have spent most of our lives at Northwestern and have always been happy here," says Jan, who continues his work with Northwestern today. Jan and Marcia also recently began taking continuing education courses at the University.

This lifelong connection is what inspired the Achenbachs to provide for Northwestern's future through planned giving. In addition to including a generous bequest in their estate plans, the couple has established several charitable gift annuities (CGAs) with the University. These popular giving vehicles allow individuals and couples to make tax-deductible gifts of cash or appreciated assets to Northwestern, and in return, receive income payments for life. "Charitable gift annuities offer big advantages to the giver," says Jan, adding that the couple decided on this type of gift after learning about the tax and income benefits it would provide during their lifetimes.

Most importantly, the Achenbachs were able to designate their planned gifts to fund engineering professorships. Their gifts will further Jan's legacy of teaching and research excellence at Northwestern Engineering.

"Northwestern has given us lifelong education, culture, music, travel, and other benefits," says Marcia, reflecting on why she and her husband have chosen to give back to the University. The Achenbachs' generosity and commitment to Northwestern will help bring these same benefits to future generations of students and faculty.

To learn more about charitable gift annuities and your personal payment rates and benefits, contact Northwestern Gift Planning at 800-826-6709 or

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A charitable bequest is one or two sentences in your will or living trust that leave to Northwestern a specific item, an amount of money, a gift contingent upon certain events or a percentage of your estate.

an individual or organization designated to receive benefits or funds under a will or other contract, such as an insurance policy, trust or retirement plan

"I give to Northwestern, a nonprofit corporation currently located at 633 Clark Street, Evanston, Illinois 60208, or its successor thereto, ______________ [written amount or percentage of the estate or description of property] for its unrestricted use and purpose."

able to be changed or cancelled

A revocable living trust is set up during your lifetime and can be revoked at any time before death. They allow assets held in the trust to pass directly to beneficiaries without probate court proceedings and can also reduce federal estate taxes.

cannot be changed or cancelled

tax on gifts generally paid by the person making the gift rather than the recipient

the original value of an asset, such as stock, before its appreciation or depreciation

the growth in value of an asset like stock or real estate since the original purchase

the price a willing buyer and willing seller can agree on

The person receiving the gift annuity payments.

the part of an estate left after debts, taxes and specific bequests have been paid

a written and properly witnessed legal change to a will

the person named in a will to manage the estate, collect the property, pay any debt, and distribute property according to the will

A donor advised fund is an account that you set up but which is managed by a nonprofit organization. You contribute to the account, which grows tax-free. You can recommend how much (and how often) you want to distribute money from that fund to Northwestern or other charities. You cannot direct the gifts.

An endowed gift can create a new endowment or add to an existing endowment. The principal of the endowment is invested and a portion of the principal’s earnings are used each year to support our mission.

Tax on the growth in value of an asset—such as real estate or stock—since its original purchase.

Securities, real estate, or any other property having a fair market value greater than its original purchase price.

Real estate can be a personal residence, vacation home, timeshare property, farm, commercial property, or undeveloped land.

A charitable remainder trust provides you or other named individuals income each year for life or a period not exceeding 20 years from assets you give to the trust you create.

You give assets to a trust that pays our organization set payments for a number of years, which you choose. The longer the length of time, the better the potential tax savings to you. When the term is up, the remaining trust assets go to you, your family or other beneficiaries you select. This is an excellent way to transfer property to family members at a minimal cost.

You fund this type of trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. You can also make additional gifts; each one also qualifies for a tax deduction. The trust pays you, each year, a variable amount based on a fixed percentage of the fair market value of the trust assets. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to Northwestern as a lump sum.

You fund this trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. Each year the trust pays you or another named individual the same dollar amount you choose at the start. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to Northwestern as a lump sum.

A beneficiary designation clearly identifies how specific assets will be distributed after your death.

A charitable gift annuity involves a simple contract between you and Northwestern where you agree to make a gift to Northwestern and we, in return, agree to pay you (and someone else, if you choose) a fixed amount each year for the rest of your life.

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