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Be Like Coke

In the late 60s, Cheryl, my future mother-in-law, received a surprise telephone call that changed her life forever.

A young, recently divorced, single mother of two small children, she barely had the means to provide for herself, much less her family. She wanted a college education but didn’t see a realistic path to get one.

That’s when she received the unexpected call. It was her ex-husband’s uncle Coke, a well-off businessman who had made his fortune in pharmaceuticals. Coke invited Cheryl to his office. He had three daughters of his own, but none of them were interested in college at the time. So, he wanted to pay for Cheryl’s college tuition, apartment, and day care instead. She was, naturally, overwhelmed but graciously accepted.

Despite the financial assistance, Cheryl had to work hard for her degree while raising two toddlers and holding down a job as a waitress at JB’s. But three tenacious years later, she met and married the love of her life and graduated with a degree in Elementary Education from the University of Houston.

Cheryl went on to raise a beautiful family, working for a few years as an elementary school teacher, eventually earning her master’s degree in human resources from the University of Texas, then working for the Texas state comptroller’s office and later for Motorola. More importantly, she always used her education to bless the lives of many others. But over fifty years later, she still has never forgotten Coke’s unsolicited kindness and generous financial gift.

Last Saturday, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) brought its home tour back to Boulder City after a three-year hiatus precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was the Boulder City chapter’s 46th home tour, a popular event that raises funds to provide college scholarships to local women. My wife and I were privileged to be one of the six homes on the tour, which is what reminded me of the philanthropy my mother-in-law received so long ago.

In the coming year, AAUW will provide more than $6 million to 285 recipients to help women pursue higher education and foster community projects that assist and strengthen them.

Globally, AAUW has awarded over $135 million to more than 13,000 scholars and organizations, making it one of the largest women’s scholarship programs in the world.

You don’t have to be a member of AAUW or agree with everything it stands for to admit that its scholarship program is pretty impressive. Nor to acknowledge that the home tour funds our local chapter raises go to support worthy causes.

Now, lest you think that AAUW and home tours are only for women, know that several of the opposite sex participated as well. In fact, of the 400 tickets sold, I’d wager that at least a fourth of the tour participants were men. Sorry, guys, if I’m ratting you out. If you want to, you can still pretend that your wife just dragged you along as a reluctant companion on threat of banishment to the doghouse. But it sure looked like you were having a good time, too!

The tour wasn’t just for Boulder City residents either. Just eye-balling it, I’d say that over half of you visited from elsewhere to enjoy our world away for a day. Hopefully all of you, both residents and non-residents, had a chance to spend some time in our local shops or enjoy a nice meal at one of our restaurants while you were out touring.

Most of us don’t have surprise benefactors quite like Uncle Coke. But all of us needed lots of help to get where we are today and to become what we’ve become. There’s not a living soul who doesn’t owe a debt of gratitude to someone. And often those debts are so large that it would be impossible to ever repay them. Assistance comes in many forms, whether financial, emotional, spiritual, or otherwise. I, for one, have a mile-long list of creditors that includes parents, teachers, scholarship donors, public servants, professional associates, family members, and friends, to name just a few.

I should thank everyone on my list much more than I do. And you should thank everyone on your list, too. Even if you thank one person on your list every day for the rest of your life, I’ll bet that you still never make it to the bottom of the list. I’m 100% certain that I won’t make it to the bottom of mine.

But today, that’s not my primary challenge to you. Instead, my challenge is more of a question. And that question is this: What are you going to do in the coming year to be a little more like Uncle Coke? Who are you going to help, even in a small, non-financial way, without any expectation of repayment? There’s no better way to repay a debt of gratitude than to pay it forward by helping others who can’t help themselves. Even (or maybe especially) when you do it anonymously. So, go and do thou likewise. Be like Coke!

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