Lessons learned and paid forward

Tammy Doll’s work at SCCC Foundation reflected her life story

The mission of Seward County Community College is to enrich peoples’ lives through education. Doing so costs money, and through the SCCC Foundation, the college offers additional help to make a college education possible, no matter what a student’s circumstances.

Much of that can be traced to the work of Tammy Doll, the now-retired executive director of development who completed her time at SCCC in June. Over a three-decade span, Doll helped grow the development office from a great idea to a powerful force in the lives of thousands of students.

“We have students on campus today, who are able to pursue their education as a direct result of the work Tammy Doll did,” said college president, Dr. Ken Trzaska. “It’s worth stopping to reflect on that, and to build on that strong foundation.”

Thanks to the nature of endowment funds — set up to continue into perpetuity — that impact will continue “pretty much forever,” Trzaska said.

It’s a big legacy for a girl from eastern Kansas, who was the first of her siblings to attend college. Growing up, “my family was not well-off at all; we were really quite needy, but I didn’t know it,” Doll recounts.

By the time she reached retirement at SCCC, Doll had come to see her own circumstances with more clarity than she had at age 18. She used that lens to benefit thousands of students.

“That’s why I got up every morning and came to work in the development office for more than 20 years,” she said, “to help students like me.”

Doll aimed to provide help like the first scholarship she received at Washburn University in Topeka.

“Back then, we had to stand in long lines to sign up for classes and receive our financial aid,” she said. “I was preparing to write a big check. It took all of my savings just to enroll for that semester.

TD02When I finally got to the front of the financial aid line, I was handed a card. I had been awarded a $300 scholarship from a test I’d taken in a big lecture hall earlier that year. The lady told me, ‘This lists the name and address of the woman who provided your scholarship. You need to send her a thank-you note.’ I was speechless. Someone I didn’t know — some stranger — cared enough to give money to help me with my schooling. That was the start of my personal journey of giving.

At SCCC, students have started a new semester, full of high hopes for their futures. Hundreds of them have a little extra help, thanks to scholarships administered through the SCCC Foundation.

“Last year, and for the past several years, the Foundation has provided around half a million dollars in scholarships,” said Donna Fisher, director of financial aid. Her office, which also processes federal student aid, and the locally-funded tuition grant for residents of Seward County, sees the individual impact scholarships have.

“There are students who would not be here on campus without scholarships,” she said. “It boosts their morale for sure. They may come in feeling defeated or deflated, but if they know they have a scholarship, especially to pay for their books, that’s a good start.”

Fisher estimated around 500 students received scholarship aid over the past academic year, which represents hours of behind-the-scenes work.

“As part of the college application process, every student has the opportunity to apply for scholarships. We do all the leg work on the back end, matching donors with recipients,” she said.

That’s where Doll’s decades of experiences benefited the process.

“There’s a lot of very generous people in the Southwest Kansas Area who really want to help,” Doll said. “Many of them, in giving back to their community, want to provide scholarship funds for students, or through facilities and departments that reflect their family priorities. It’s very important to honor those wishes, and match a donor’s philanthropic interests with student needs.”

Doll’s work at the Foundation found more broad applications as well.

“One of the scholarships the Foundation set up in recent years is the HUG fund, which looks at the student’s whole life and needs, not just limiting recipients to those with a 3.0 grade point average,” Doll said. “It’s not uncommon for us to identify a student who, because of extenuating circumstances, has had to work very hard to survive and just needs help to get started on an education that can make a long-term difference in his or her life.” HUG scholarship funds have been dispensed over the years to purchase grocery-store gift cards, new tires to get back and forth to school, help with utility payments, or arrange for auto repairs performed at the industrial technology division.

“I think we need to help more students, and yet there’s a difficult balance to maintain,” Doll said. “So many times people would ask, ’Is this a real need? How can you tell? How do you know?’ Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Unfortunately, being poor, being a single parent is the norm today. That’s not an extenuating circumstance. It probably was when we went to school. I had to tell students, you know, you might need to apply for federal aid; you haven’t done that yet. You need to be enrolled full time. We always wanted to see the student was doing everything he/she could to help themselves first.”

When Doll laid out such expectations, she was speaking from her own experiences in life. A high-achieving high school student, Doll qualified for “early release” her senior year, and was able to take college classes in English and accounting before high school graduation.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but my parents had to dip into their savings to pay for those classes,” she said. “They really had to scrape, but they were glad to do it.”

She went on to earn a two-year degree as a legal assistant, before marrying young and starting a family.

She started work at SCCC as secretary of the athletic department 35 years ago, when she moved to Liberal with her first husband. Within a matter of years, however, she found herself a divorced single mother, struggling to make ends meet.

“I was so fortunate to work for people who cared about me, and encouraged me,” she said. “Charles Brownlee was my first boss, and then later, I worked for Galen McSpadden.”

Through a partnership with Friends University, SCCC offered a bachelor’s degree completion  program for human resource management. An instructor came from Wichita one night a week for 13 months.

“The instructor came out early and would swim in the pool at the college,” Doll recalled. “Sometimes the locker room wasn’t open, and he’d stop by my office in the athletic department, so I could unlock it for him. We got to be friends. He said, ‘Tell me about yourself … would you be interested in this program?’ Yes, I would.”

As part of the two colleges’ agreement, one scholarship was available for an SCCC employee. College president at the time, Ted Wischropp, encouraged Doll to apply for the spot.

“Thirteen months later, as I was finishing my last class, the president called me into his office to talk. The college had gotten its first Title III grant to strengthen institutions, and he wanted me to apply for this new position that was being created.” The college foundation had just received its first major gift, and had reached the $1 million mark.  With community leaders Ron Poor, Virginia Leete and Stan Antrim on board, the Foundation was poised to grow; it needed to find a full-time director.

“I thought about it, and it wasn’t so much that I wanted to leave my job in the athletic department, but I was not making ends meet,” Doll recalled. “I had a son who was six, and after I had applied and I gotten an interview, I was taking him to his daycare. He looked at me and saw I was wearing a dress — I had borrowed some earrings from a friend, and I looked nicer than I normally did for a work day. Willie said, ‘Mom, how come you’re so dressed up today?’

“I told him, ‘I have a job interview,’ and I told him a little bit about the job I was applying for. He thought about it, and then he asked me, ‘Does this mean if you get the job, we’ll have a better life?’”

Doll still tears up a bit when she tells the story, but she continues: “I told him, ‘Yes, Willie, it does.’ And that’s exactly what it did.”

Moving from an athletic department secretary to a director spot “almost doubled my pay. The first thing I bought was a couch and a chair,” she said, laughing a little at the irony: as Doll and her husband, Dale, prepared to move at the end of the summer, both having retired from SCCC, one of her tasks was to dispose of an unwanted sofa and chair.

The trajectory of her life is marked by far more than financial security, Doll reflected. Movement ahead was the direct result of people who provided opportunities, showed generosity, and believed in Doll’s potential.

“The people at Seward opened doors to me,” she said. They encouraged her to continue her education, to apply for new positions, to think big. They also became friends.

“I felt bad leaving the athletic department,” Doll said. “I told Galen, ‘This job is going to help me do things for my family I couldn’t do before.’ We remained friends. We worked on projects together. Galen raised money for the baseball team for many years.”

Doll met lifelong friend and former SCCC public relations director Andrea “Andy” Yoxall, through a desktop publishing class Yoxall taught.

“I was still in the athletic department, and the booster club needed to do a newsletter. I said, ‘OK, sure, I can learn to do that,’ so I took Andy’s class. Those programs have gone by the wayside, but the skills I learned helped me in my job.” The newsletter abilities weren’t the only thing Doll took from the class. She also gained a personal and professional ally.

“Andy and I had children about the same age, and when I became the development director,we  worked together closely. Each of us was a one-person department, so we helped each other.  We were a team. It was more than just a friendship, we had each others’ back.”

Yoxall and Doll launched the popular Foundation Party Auction, which continues in its 23rd year this September, building it from a country-club evening to a major source of scholarship and program funding that draws around 400 guests annually and raises upward of $40,000. And it’s fun, with themes ranging from carnival to pioneer days to medieval fairs to time-travel to the 1950s, and in the upcoming event this year, the 1980s.

“The auction is a great event that I see only getting better,” said SCCC Major Gifts Office Chandler Kirkhart, who will head up the 2017 auction. “Tammy got something started that we can build on for years to come.”

On Doll’s last day of work, Yoxall drove to Liberal from Edmond, where she now lives, “to help me clean out my office because she knew how hard that would be,” Doll said. “We’ll maintain our friendship for sure, even though she’s in Edmond, Okla., and I’ll be in Lawrence.”

Over the years, Doll worked for a total of seven presidents — James Hooper, Ted Wischropp, Don Guild, Jim Grote, James Tangeman, Duane Dunn, and Ken Trzaska — “and I learned something from each one,” she said. “Sometimes, I wish I could go over the last 25 or 30 years, and do my job all over again. I’d do it so much better, with everything I know now. There’s no training for this job, other than going to workshops. It’s not something you major in at college. I learned how to do the job along the way.”

“Tammy has done a tremendous job of building the Foundation into something strong and stable,” said Foundation Chair Duane Bozarth at the group’s farewell luncheon for Doll. “We’re going to miss her.”

Farewell luncheonSM
SCCC Foundation Chair Duane Bozarth presents Doll with a gift during her final Foundation meeting in June. 

Bozarth and Foundation treasurer Al Shank noted the endowment grew tenfold during Doll’s time as director, and continues to outpace Foundations at other two-year colleges in the region. A capital campaign currently under way will help the college move to its next 50-year phase of growth, with new facilities and potential.

Those achievements do not shine as brightly in Doll’s mind as the human element of her time at SCCC.

“I’m going to cry leaving Liberal,” she said in an interview conducted amid the frenzy of moving. “I had both my boys here. Met the man I’m going to grow old with here. Made lots and lots of friends. It’ll just be hard to start over in a new community.“

Doll will also treasure the relationships she built with donors, whose ties to the college will outlast Doll’s years of work, and continue to benefit students.

“I’ve made some very good friends through my work with the Foundation, and I continue to be inspired by many of them,” Doll said. “I’ll never forget one time I went to visit one of our donors. She had been in the habit of giving some funds to the tech school, some to the college, and I visited her on a regular basis. Over the years, she got frail, shaky, and then one day she handed her checkbook to me and said, ‘Will you please make out a check to the Foundation for $50,000?’

“I had never written a check for $50,000 before. I was nervous. I wrote it out. I was trying to spell all the words correctly. That was Neva Houston. She was from Elkhart, and she wanted her money to help Elkhart and Liberal students. So, Morton, Seward, and Texas County residents were her area of interest. She set up an endowment, and even though people may not know her name, may not remember her, her money is going to help students forever.”

The same could be said for Doll. The Foundation office will soon welcome a new director, the volunteers will meet, students will come and go.

The impact of Doll’s work, though, remains in the progress of students who walk the halls during the fall 2017 semester. Like the mother of a certain six-year-old did years ago, they can take what they’re learning and go on to have a better life.

 

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