These USD Grandparents say, "Education is #1"

Bob and Pat WhalenBy Ryan T. Blystone

Bob and Pat Whalen have made many important decisions, but perhaps the most important was listening and acting on some good advice.

"We were raised by European grandparents and I remember them saying the only important thing in life was to get a good education," Pat says.

She graduated from the High School of Performing Arts in New York with visions of being the "great American actress." Instead, she became Florida's first female general contractor. She's taken college courses in English, creative writing, political science, sociology and basic computers so education has been a constant in her life.

Bob Whalen, 76, earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1954. He was doing graduate work at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, but left school because he was unable to pay a $62 bill for car maintenance.

"There were no credit cards and when you got a bill, you paid it," Pat explained. "His tuition ($550), books and lab fees were paid with a Hughes Fellowship. We needed two tires for our 1938 Plymouth. The bill for two tires, brakes and alignment plus gasoline for the month was $62. Bob had to get a job. He was hired to work for Bell Aircraft in Buffalo for his first job. He did it to pay the bill."

The couple came to San Diego County in 1982 and now reside in La Jolla. They have been married for 56 years, since Bob's freshman year of college. Pat gave birth to the first of their two children during Bob's sophomore year. The Whalen family extends to four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. One can be sure the grandparents have passed along the good advice they once received.

"Education has always been No. 1 because it helped us so much," says Bob, who went on to be president of Martin Marietta's operations in Orlando, Fla. "It's a top priority for us in terms of charitable giving."

Granddaughter Holly Nicole Whalen is the first Whalen family member to attend the University of San Diego. Expected to graduate in 2008 with a business degree, Holly's decision to attend USD had her grandparents' full support.

"We love the passion the educators and the staff have for the students," Pat says. "From the time Holly interviewed with them, we've been impressed. This university is very in tune with the students."

Bob and Pat are active grandparents. Pat is on UCSD's undergraduate scholarship committee and with the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS), a foundation providing scholarship support to academic institutions, including USD.

Perhaps the Whalens' greatest impact on USD stems from a conversation Pat had with Allen Baytop, director of special gifts and scholarship development. She suggested USD was missing key fundraising participation — grandparents who want to contribute to their grandchild's education. The conversation helped launch USD's Grandparents Weekend, an annual event since 2005. This year's event, held Feb. 23-24, drew 100 grandparents.

The Whalens' most recent contribution was a year-end gift using provisions under the Pension Protection Act of 2006. It allows owners of individual retirement accounts to make charitable gifts directly from their IRAs to a qualified charity if they meet certain criteria. It's one more way the Whalens choose to provide educational opportunities for students to improve their quality of life.

"We worked hard in school, but there were no scholarships for us at that time," Pat says. "But we really understand that it's necessary to keep education strong in this country."

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