The SHS grad who helps families make babies
Meet Pamela Cohen Hirsch, Class of 1964.
The Springfield High School (SHS) Hall of Fame honors graduates who have achieved national eminence. Pamela Cohen Hirsch, class of 1964, is the most recent honoree, inducted March 29 at a ceremony in the Springfield High School auditorium. After a highly successful business career, Hirsch founded the nonprofit Baby Quest Foundation in 2012. The organization provides grants to help people with fertility issues achieve their dream of having a child. She lives in Los Angeles, California.
Several of Hirsch’s high school classmates attended the ceremony. They describe her as quiet and reserved in high school – and smart. She double-majored in French and Spanish at the University of Illinois. Fresh out of college, she was the first Caucasian teacher at a high school in Texas. She moved to California and taught at a low-income middle school before launching her successful business career.
In 1985 she read a story in Time magazine about the Princeton Review, a new initiative providing tutoring and preparation for college entrance exams. She was intrigued, and her persistence paid off. She became a Princeton Review franchise owner, and her territory extended south of San Francisco through Silicon Valley and down through Monterey. She grew the company from 38 students in 1985 to 2,000 students in 2001. After eight years her business was included in the top 500 fastest growing companies in the U.S., and she was one of only 12 women recognized. When she left the business after 15 years and moved to Los Angeles, she had 300 people working for her. Her business provided courses to prepare students for the SAT, LSAT, MCAT, GMAT and GRE exams.
Hirsch then dabbled, unsuccessfully, in other businesses. Her daughter’s painful experience trying to have a child inspired her to create the Baby Quest Foundation to help others. Hirsch explains that one in eight couples have difficulties with infertility, and the cost of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) often ranges from $10,000 to $15,000 or more, plus medications. She saw the pain and suffering firsthand as her youngest daughter went through several years of IVF that ended in miscarriages and ultimately turned to gestational surrogacy. Hirsch also saw how expensive this was and how little of it insurance covered. She was inspired to help others who want to have a child and cannot afford the expense. The vision of Baby Quest is “fulfilling dreams, building families.”
Baby Quest pays for costs not covered by insurance, including IVF, egg donation, embryo donation and gestational surrogacy. Grants are paid directly to the fertility clinic, and applicants must be under treatment by a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at an accredited fertility facility. The organization is inclusive, providing grants to heterosexual and same-sex couples and singles.
Baby Quest has provided grants to people all over the country, including here in Springfield. Given the many challenges associated with infertility, there is no guarantee that every grant will result in a successful pregnancy, but every grant helps people on their journey. Tiffany, of Springfield, received a grant from the Baby Quest Foundation after finding out about the organization from a friend who had received a grant. She and her husband now have 20-month-old twin boys.
“Baby Quest was very helpful in our journey,” says Tiffany. “Unfortunately, we weren’t successful with our cycle involving Baby Quest. However, that failed cycle did convince us it was time to move forward with another doctor from St. Louis. Pamela was super helpful, informative and wonderful to talk to. I’m also impressed with her work and motivation for the infertility affecting so many families.” Tiffany’s twins boys were born at St. John’s Hospital, where Tiffany has worked in labor and delivery for the past 12 years. St. John’s Hospital is also where Hirsch was born.
“When I started Baby Quest, it was completely dependent upon individual donors,” says Hirsch. “As we grew, we got the attention of other foundations that contributed. Eventually, we expanded our base and now receive support from all...individuals, other foundations and some corporate partners. Sustaining momentum is a challenge, but our community of support is growing yearly.”
Baby Quest recently selected nine new recipients, bringing the total number of grants to 106. Sixty-eight babies have been born as a result of help from Baby Quest. The foundation has awarded nearly $1.8 million, including cash and the value of negotiated doctor discounts, waived legal fees and complimentary medications. For more information about Baby Quest, go to https://babyquestfoundation.org/.
Richard Berning, a classmate of Hirsch in junior high and high school, nominated Hirsch for this award after learning more about her at a class reunion. “Even after being successful, she tried things, found failure and went on to other successes,” says Berning. “That is a good message for students.” Persistence is a quality frequently mentioned by her classmates. Suzy Rechner of Springfield grew up on the same street as Hirsch, and they have remained friends. “What Pam wants to do, she does,” says Rechner.
SHS seniors attended the induction ceremony, and Hirsch offered them some words of wisdom. Baby Quest is “the most rewarding of any of my careers,” she said. She credits her teachers at Springfield High School and background in English as being influential. “Knowing how to write influenced everything,” says Hirsch. She also cited luck, patience, persistence and passion. “I hope you as graduating seniors can find something you enjoy doing, each and every day.”
The Springfield High School Hall of Fame was established in 1967 as a gift from Carol C. Hall and Dorothy Sivia Hall, graduates of SHS. The award is presented annually to a graduate of SHS who has achieved national eminence, has been graduated for a minimum of 25 years and who attended SHS during their junior and senior years.
Karen Ackerman Witter started freelance writing after retiring from a long career in Illinois state government. She enjoys writing about interesting people, places and organizations. She is a graduate of Springfield High School and a new member of the SHS Hall of Fame committee.