It was the moment that Thanksgiving became more than a meal with family.
More than a decade ago, Sam Gunda (EE ’80) welcomed a small group of international students from Illinois Institute of Technology to his home in Addison, Illinois
—a village just west of Chicago—to celebrate the holiday.
Gunda began the proceedings with a speech about Thanksgiving that still resonates with his daughter, Indira Saladi (M.S. EE ’93).
“It was the most impactful and powerful, because he would say that Thanksgiving is our holiday. It is the immigrants’ holiday,” Saladi remembers. “It is a celebration of new people to the United States. It really changed the way we all thought of Thanksgiving.”
That first gathering at the home of Gunda and his wife, Seetha, was the impetus for the creation of the Satyanarayana (Sam) Gunda International Student Thanksgiving Celebration Fund, which Saladi and her mother started in honor of Gunda, who passed away in October 2020. The fund organized its first Thanksgiving meal for more than 80 international students in The McCormick Tribune Campus Center on Illinois Tech’s Mies Campus last November.
“My father made a difference and each Illinois Tech student can as well. When my father immigrated as a student to Illinois Tech, he had no idea what the future would hold.”
It is a fitting tribute to Gunda, whose own experience at Illinois Tech included a Thanksgiving meal that left an impression on his family.
Gunda arrived from India to study engineering at Illinois Tech in 1971, with Seetha and Saladi arriving in 1972. The following year, the Gunda family was invited to spend Thanksgiving at a dinner arranged specifically for international students and their families by Illinois Tech.
“When we came to the U.S., we didn’t know much about it,” Seetha says, referring to Thanksgiving. “That was very unique to have a host family, and it was a wonderful memory.”
That experience eventually led to the Gundas hosting Illinois Tech international students at their home for a traditional, American Thanksgiving dinner for the students’ first Thanksgiving—just like they had. Over the years it transitioned to an international-style meal, but the atmosphere, focused on making everyone feel welcomed, never changed.
An engineer by trade, Gunda was an entrepreneur and business owner, a volunteer for a multitude of organizations and schools in Addison, and, later in life, a fitness champion who, after he started running at age 60 and biking soon after, competed in marathons in Chicago, London, New York, and Antarctica, as well as in many bicycle racing events. He also uplifted the village he was born in by funding education and health care services.
It is that zest for life and tremendous impact that Saladi hopes the students take away from the Thanksgiving event.
“My father made a difference and each Illinois Tech student can as well. When my father immigrated as a student to Illinois Tech, he had no idea what the future would hold,” says Saladi, who is the president of Orchard, a health care staffing company. “Just like he made a difference, these students will as well. They can make a difference, and they should be ready to be surprised at the impact that their life will have.”