College of Architecture, Art and Construction

A legacy of passion: parents and friends of deceased Historic Preservation student establish memorial fund


From a young age, Kelly Bulak was interested in architecture and historic preservation. She wanted to learn from and preserve the past to help build a more sustainable future. According to her parents, Kelly loved to wonder about the stories old buildings could tell.

In August of 2020, Kelly, 29, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. That same month, she began graduate studies in Clemson’s Historic Preservation program in Charleston.

Despite her illness, she continued to work toward her degree. Unfortunately, Kelly succumbed to her cancer in November of 2021. Now, a new endowment has been established in her memory to fulfill her dream and to provide travel grants-in-aid to students enrolled in the Historic Preservation program. 

We were lucky enough to be part of this same journey with Kelly, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate her memory.

Jon Marcoux, Director, Master of Science in Historic Preservation Program

The Kelly Brown Bulak ’22 Memorial Endowment for the Study of Historic Preservation was established and administered by Kelly’s parents, James S. Bulak and Pamela Brown Bulak, and her friends, Katherine B. Frazier and Sarah Horton Ruffin. The endowment will enable students to pursue their dreams and to continue Kelly’s vision of building sustainable, inclusive communities while preserving essential parts of the past.

“To me, this fund means we can put Kelly’s request, her dream, into action,” said Jim Bulak. “Kelly specifically requested this, and it’s amazing to see it happen and to be able to help the program that she cared so much about.”

An image of Kelly Bulak laughing

Kelly was passionate about historic preservation, design, travel and art. According to her parents, Kelly spent her life traveling the world, absorbing cultures, architecture and arts in every location she visited. She was drawn to old buildings and the cities she visited in Europe, Australia and the United States, leaving a legacy of photos, drawings and relationships from her travels.

“It’s been important for both of us to continue her legacy. We always felt like Kelly had found her calling when she found the Historic Preservation program, and the people there were amazing and so supportive,” shared Pamela Bulak. “When she was in the hospital, she told us that she wanted to contribute to the program, and we are really fortunate that we’ve been able to build upon that wish.”

Kelly’s friends set up a GoFundMe, sold masks and hats that said, “Bea Strong,” an homage to Kelly’s nickname, and held an auction to help pay for her medical bills while she battled lung cancer. According to the Bulak’s, much of the money that helped establish the endowment came from funds left after Kelly died.

Jim Bulak explained, “the endowment combines not only Kelly’s gift but her friends’ gifts. The fundraising helped to establish the endowment.” Jim also added that “after Kelly’s death, many of Kelly’s friends have made generous donations to help grow the endowment.”

The Bulak’s hope is that this endowment will allow students to broaden their horizons, go somewhere new and learn as much as possible. With the endowment just beginning, the Bulak’s are already looking to the future and hope to expand the endowment to allow more opportunities for student travel and exploration.

“We are so grateful to Kelly and her family and friends for establishing the endowment,” said Jon Marcoux, director of graduate programs in historic preservation at Clemson University. “Each summer, the support provided by the endowment will allow students to explore and discover their particular passion within the field of historic preservation. We were lucky enough to be part of this same journey with Kelly, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate her memory.”

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