April 30, 2012
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Growing up in Nashville, Jim McKee (BA '60) lived with his mother and grandmother in a two-room apartment without air conditioning.
Jim slept on the couch. A two-sport standout in high school, he passed on an appointment to West Point and instead chose to stay closer to home by accepting a scholarship to play football and baseball at Vanderbilt. McKee's dormitory on West End was the first time he remembers having his own bed.
More than 50 years later, he has many fond memories of his time at Vanderbilt. As a sophomore pitcher, McKee started both games of a doubleheader at Ole Miss--completing the first seven-inning contest and staying on to pitch the first five innings of game two.
McKee quarterbacked the 1958 and 1959 football teams to a combined record of 10-5-5. He capped his collegiate career with a 14-0 win over Tennessee in Knoxville.
When he looks back at his college days, what he remembers most is the tremendous opportunity afforded to him by his athletic scholarship.
"Vanderbilt meant a lot to me," McKee said. "I got a good eduction and made lifelong friends. There was no way I could have gone to Vanderbilt without my scholarship."
Having made the connection between his experience as a student-athlete and the funding that made it possible, it is no surprise that McKee has chosen to support the Vanderbilt athletic department by including the National Commodore Club in his estate planning.
Who better to know the importance of giving to the department than someone who has directly reaped its benefits? Such is also the case for Jill Kispert (BA '89).
The former Jill Goldberg played basketball and soccer at Vanderbilt in the late 1980s, and is believed to have been the first female on an athletic scholarship to study abroad. She rates that experience on par with being part of the Commodores' first NCAA Tournament squad as a freshman.
"As a former athlete, I have a huge amount of pride in being able to give back some of the opportunities that were given to me," Kispert said. "It's my way to stay connected and say `thank you.' I'm grateful to everyone there. They were truly like a family."
Former student-athletes are not the only alumni who make deep connections with the athletic department. A second generation Vanderbilt graduate, Bracton Thoma (BA '96) fondly remembers the 1993 men's basketball team knocking off top-ranked Kentucky en route to an SEC regular season championship.
Thoma came up from his home in Birmingham to attend baseball's NCAA Regional and Super Regional victories last spring. He gives to the NCC annually.
"It's pride in the college I attended," Thoma said. "With the size of Vanderbilt compared to the size of its competition, I'm just trying to do anything I can to help."
Many NCC supporters never attended Vanderbilt. Oklahoma native Pat Emery married into the Commodore family. When Emery moved to Nashville, his in-laws, Dr. and Hazel Moon, were already long-time Vanderbilt supporters. Emery's love of local athletics led him to begin attending games and he was quickly hooked.
"The university is clearly invested in the student-athletes," Emery said. "And [the student-athletes] are fine young people--what you want to see in society. [They are] well-educated, care about their community and their team. They are great role models."
A University of Kentucky graduate, Joel Gordon cannot recall missing a home football game in the 40 years that he has had the same seats at Dudley Field. Gordon is a former board member at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and his wife, Bernice, graduated from Peabody College.
There are two endowed scholarships at Vanderbilt that have been named in Gordon's honor--one at Peabody that is awarded to a student with a focus on healthcare business or services, and one for a men's basketball student-athlete. Josh Henderson is the current recipient of the latter.
"What I most appreciate is the emphasis that Vanderbilt has placed on athletic and academic success," Gordon said.
The reasons people feel compelled to give are countless, and the ways that they can contribute are growing as well. From annual giving and capital campaigns to planned giving, the athletic endowment, and the newest option, restricted giving--whereby funds can be earmarked to go to a specific sport--the NCC is helping meet the needs of student-athletes by finding more ways to connect fans with Vanderbilt athletics.