|Not only does alumnus Larry Taff provide scholarships to student-athletes, but he's also a faithful fan. Over the past year, he has supported cross-country athlete Tiffany Dinh, sharing personal stories about his years as a student and cross-country runner.|
Sometimes, a seemingly simple gesture can set off a chain of events that has a significant impact in someone's life. For a student-athlete and the donor behind her scholarship, this certainly is true.
Tiffany Dinh of the women's track and field team is a stellar athlete, having been honored as Freshman of the Year, a Scholar Baller and the third All-American in women's cross-country program history. She's also a stellar student, maintaining a 3.40 grade-point average in 2011. Like many student-athletes, Dinh knows the roller-coaster ride of living these two lives.
A scholarship from alumnus Larry Taff ('80, accounting) not only provides financial support, but just as important, he has been a great source of encouragement.
"During my sophomore year he was really concerned with how I was doing, both in my health and my studies," Dinh says.
Over the past year, she and Taff have shared personal stories of their college trials and tribulations.
"Times have certainly changed," says Taff, who paid only $61 per quarter when he arrived as a community college transfer in 1977. "I was heavily subsidized. I was a big beneficiary of the investment that somebody else made in me, so I felt like I should do something to repay that."
A former cross-country performer himself, Taff respects the commitment and sacrifice student-athletes make. He began donating scholarships several years ago to student-athletes pursuing business careers. Such a specific gift allows him to know his beneficiaries on a personal level.
"For me, college was much more stressful than after college. I was so worried about not having good enough grades to get a great job — the kind of things a lot of college students worry about. I have learned through experience that if you're a reasonably intelligent person and are willing to work hard, things generally have a way of working out," he says. "Had I understood that back when I was in college, I would have worried less, performed better, and enjoyed the experience more.
Getting to know a person who experienced similar pressures and gone on to achieve great success has been reassuring to Dinh both on the course and in the classroom. She highly values the support.
"He checks up on me so much. He'll be the first person to congratulate me, both on an athletic and academic basis," she says.
He has changed her life — and the two have never met face to face.
Taff lives and works in Hawaii. Their conversations have been via phone and email, but the two will have a chance to meet during a regional meet this November in the Aloha State.
One of Taff's biggest sources of inspiration was his father's oldest brother. It is a story of family success steeped in a spirit of giving.
"My father had a very difficult life," Taff says, recounting that he lost his mother when he was just 8. "He and his three older brothers grew up working on a sharecropper farm in Oklahoma. There was barely enough money to survive, much less attend college. But a Baptist minister provided my uncle room and board that allowed him to get off the farm and work for the railroad for several years until he could save enough money to start college. His example and encouragement paved the way for the other brothers to graduate from college.
"I asked my uncle shortly before his death how he summoned the courage to go to college. He downplayed the whole thing, saying 'it didn't take much courage; there was nowhere to go but up.' They were so desperately poor, it's hard for me to relate to their experience. I'm inspired by the Baptist minister, because without him it doesn't happen.
"Something as simple as giving a kid a place to stay changed a whole generation. I'm trying to be that guy."
Intercollegiate Athletics features 10 teams.
The Broncos have won 14 national championships
in Division II: three in baseball, five in women's basketball, four in women's tennis, one in men's
cross-country and one in men's basketball. The university also competes in men's and women's
soccer, men's and women's track, women's crosscountry and women's volleyball.
Support for athletics' campaign goals will fund
a comprehensive revitalization of Scolinos Field,
the renovation of Kellogg Gym, and scholarships for current and future student-athletes.
Brian Swanson, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics
Gina Johnson, Director of Development