Our Foundation History

Growing Up Poor, Rising through Education

As a young man, Dave Thillen knew the hardships of being poor. Growing up as the youngest child of five and never knowing his father, Dave was raised by a hardworking mom in the inner-city of Chicago. Mom having just an 8th grade education made it challenging to provide for her young family. Dave was the only child in the family to graduate from high school. 


Life wasn’t always easy. Even so, the lessons Dave learned in his early years about perseverance, courage, and dreams became the bedrock for a very bright future.

Propelled by a desire to better his circumstances, Dave dedicated himself to his schoolwork, made professional connections, met with mentors, and eventually attended Wheaton College. There, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and was co-captain of the gymnastics team. 


Dave was convinced that an advanced degree would help him better compete for a starting position to begin his career.  So, he attended Northern Illinois University and obtained a Master’s Degree in Mathematics.  He began his career by joining IBM in the Chicago area in software development. 


After six months, IBM gave Dave military leave to fulfill his military obligation.  Dave was stationed at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York as a physical education instructor and assistant gymnastics coach. Upon completing his 2 years of military service, Dave returned to IBM in software development but located in Jacksonville, Florida. 


Upon being exposed to the world of marketing, Dave altered his career path to marketing and entered marketing management after being promoted to Atlanta, Georgia.  He then went between line and staff management and retired after 30 years as a Business Unit Executive. 

Dave understood that education was the way out of poverty, and he committed his life to helping others understand the transformative power of great coaching, life and career plans, milestone goals, and hard work.

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Our Foundation Timeline

Today the Thillen Education Foundation is engaged in an innovative and collaborative effort to prepare young people to find success in a rapidly changing world.  The coming year will see Greene College & Career Academy students, from freshman to senior classes, on board and participating within a mentored career planning process.  All students, - not just the top 2 or 3 , or top 10% - will have the opportunity to graduate with a career goal in view, a plan to reach it in place, and the ability to earn financial assistance to get started.  This process has been over 20 years in the making.