It’s rare that you get the opportunity to appropriately honor and thank a mentor later in life who had a major impact on your formative years. Thanks to the impressive generosity of a fellow UCSD alumnus, former Associated Students President David Marchick ‘88, and the leadership of UCSD Alumni Director Armin Afsahi ’90, a group of former student leaders and administrators were able to do just that last week.
Dr. Tommy Tucker served as an Assistant Vice Chancellor at UCSD for more than 20 years, wearing a variety of hats throughout his tenure. As the invitation to the event stated so well, “His dedication, leadership and foresight transformed student life at UC San Diego, where he reintroduced Greek life, instituted innovative student leadership programs and guided the planning and the construction of the Price Center and RIMAC…”
The Price Center, named for Price Club founder Sol Price, did indeed transform the institution. I was a student there when the facility opened in 1988, and suddenly UCSD changed from a sleepy campus with dated student activities space to a modern university with a state of the art University Center. The campus bookstore, previously housed in a dank 1960s era box of a building, became a two-story showcase for incoming students and families. A modern food court with brand-name providers occupied the lower level, and a Round Table Pizza pub opened. A massive ballroom hosted events of all types. Student lounges and game rooms were included. Finally, after more than 25 years, UCSD had a central hub with modern amenities.
It was around this same time that a planning committee was convened to explore the idea of eventually building a bookend to the Price Center – a project that eventually became known simply as RIMAC, an acronym for Recreation, Intramural, and Athletic Complex. As plain as the name may be, the building is anything but. It was on that committee that Tommy Tucker and I came together. I wrangled an appointment to the committee from my college dean, and not long after was elected the student co-chair of the committee, a role in which I worked side by side with Tommy for three years in planning, campaigning for, and overseeing architect selection for another showcase facility that would transform student life after I graduated and moved on. After years of planning, polling, site visits to other institutions, debates and discussions within the very large RIMAC Planning Committee, and negotiations with then-Chancellor Richard Atkinson and others on financing for the project, we took a referendum to students in 1990 asking them to vote on what would become the single largest self-assessed student fee increase in the history of the University of California system – $70 per quarter ($210 per year) – to partially finance the construction and ongoing maintenance and operations of a more than 230,000 square foot building housing an arena; modern recreation facilities; dance studios; locker rooms; an expansive, modern weight room; the intercollegiate athletics, intramural, and recreation departments; and much more.
It is a testament to Tom Tucker that these two massive construction projects were possible, and at the time each went before students for vote neither seemed likely. However, the irrepressible positive spirit of Tucker, and his ability to foster the growth of the students who gained amazing experience on the planning committees for these projects, enabled both to succeed. The RIMAC project, valued at more than $32 million in 1990 dollars, was conceived, planned, and delivered by a committee that had almost equal representation of students and administrators. The same was true for the Price Center. The exposure to politics, finance, business, and leadership helped shape the careers and lives of the students who served on those committees.
Of all the administrators and faculty members I interacted with during my years at UCSD, Tommy has been the one individual who has continually stayed in contact for more than 20 years. Always cheerful, always encouraging, and always excited to hear the latest news from former students, he’s dealt with myriad health problems in recent years but never lets the focus shine on him, only on the students he worked with over his many years at UCSD.
It’s no surprise that today UCSD ranks among the top public universities in the world, and that comes in part because of the Price Center (amazingly now expanded to approximately twice its original size – another Tommy Tucker project) and RIMAC have hosted world leaders for speeches and special events that simply were not possible on campus until they were built. UCSD’s intercollegiate athletics program, long a Division III power, elevated to Division II in the years after RIMAC opened in 1995, and today there is a move afoot to ascend to Division I. Without RIMAC, such talk could never occur.
So it was a real privilege for a number of the former student leaders who worked most closely with Tucker to come together at UCSD last week to honor this humble man with a giant heart. We flew in from all over the country – Washington, DC, Cleveland, Sacramento, and more – to join Tommy for dinner. Many of us did not know each other before meeting that night. We came from different eras, different locations, different backgrounds. But we all shared a common experience. Our lives were changed for the better by a guy named Tommy.
The event was the brainchild of Dave Marchick, the former student body president who shares the same affinity for Tucker as so many others. And Marchick is making a concerted effort to ensure Tucker’s lasting legacy at UCSD is never forgotten. In a true philanthropic gesture, the Marchick family has created a scholarship named not for themselves, but for Tommy Tucker. The Marchicks have invested $100,000 to create the endowment, and are challenging other alumni to step up and give to reach an ultimate goal of $250,000. At maturity, this endowment will fully fund an outstanding student leader’s costs of education at UCSD each and every year, forever…and Tommy Tucker’s name will live on at UCSD as a result.
A philosopher and writer by the name of Dr. David Trueblood once said, “It takes a noble man to plant a seed for a tree that will some day give shade to people he may never meet.”
With all of his efforts at UCSD to ensure a brighter future not only for the students he touched directly but all those who came after, Dr. Tommy Tucker embodied this notion. With his family’s extraordinary gift to ensure Tucker’s legacy lasts forever, Dave Marchick clearly learned a lot from his mentor about paying it forward. So did we all.