More than money: Why I give
Behind every scholarship is a story about what compels a donor to pay forward. For Greg Houston, it’s about honoring those who inspire confidence in the next generation the way his dad did for him.
Thirty-five years ago, I received the Leon M. Abbott scholarship award as a broadcast journalism student at Ohio State. The late William Drenton, my J-school professor and a man I held in high esteem, presented the $500 award. My parents attended the ceremony. I consumed and committed to memory every detail of that day.
Every detail, that is, with one exception: What exactly was the purpose behind the Abbott scholarship?
The answer to that question seemed insignificant at the time, or certainly secondary to the money and the moment. Today, I view these types of scholarships through a different prism.
As a donor, I clearly see the significance of what I was unable to grasp and fully appreciate then: Behind every dollar of every scholarship is a unique story — a story that compels people like me to pay forward.
The gift of confidence
My father was a huge influence in my life. In the weeks just before his passing, I made a somber plea as I knelt at his bedside. “How do I go on without you?”
His response I carry with me to this day.
“Greg,” he replied, “I’ve had a good life. I, too, have lost people who meant the world to me. And yet I knew for you kids, I couldn’t let my pain show. I had to be strong if I was to be the ‘light’ I wanted to be in your lives. You’ve got a long life still ahead of you, and you now need to be a ‘light’ for your family and for those whose lives you will touch.”
My father, Frank Houston, passed away at 12:40 a.m. on Feb. 6, 2001. He was 67.
I was born and raised in Ironton, Ohio. I grew up during the ’60s and ’70s in a typical Midwestern family. We lived paycheck to paycheck. We had no savings to speak of.
My dad and I broadcast high school football and basketball games for Ironton High School for about 10 years. We had the privilege of calling two state championship games at Ohio Stadium. Those years are among the more cherished memories and moments with my father.
Beneath my father’s rugged, outspoken exterior, was a man whose interior was remarkably soft and sensitive. He was a blue-collar worker who bounced from job to job. He was laid off more times than I care to count. Those experiences — and the financial stress it put on our family — profoundly affected his life and what he wanted for mine.
My father was also my friend and biggest fan. Like all parents, he wanted a better life for his children. No one in our family had ever graduated from college. He wanted me to be the first. He wanted that desperately. He believed a college education was his children’s ticket to a better life.
What my dad was unable to provide from his wallet, he provided in unconditional support and encouragement. His confidence and belief that I could do anything in life became the wind beneath my wings.
It’s what drives me to this day. It’s what pulls me through life’s difficult challenges. It’s what gave me the confidence to start a B2B marketing communications firm from scratch with my wife, Pam, and business partner, Dale Dean, in 1988.
To fulfill my vision for the Frank Houston Scholarship Fund, it must represent more than money given to a worthy student who meets certain criteria. For the recipients, I also want it to represent the people in their lives who gave or who are now giving them the confidence to believe they can achieve anything.
You see, paying forward doesn’t necessarily mean giving one’s money. It can also be the support and encouragement from a mother, a sibling, a friend, a professor and, yes, a father. It’s the kind of unconditional support and encouragement that can serve as the wind beneath the wings of a young, ambitious college kid trying to figure out life. It’s the energy that can propel him or her to heights he or she never thought possible.
If you’re already a recipient or will one day be privileged to earn a scholarship from our great university, I encourage you to take a moment to explore its deeper, richer meaning. In doing so, you just may awaken something within you or perhaps reveal and ignite a passion that can take you to places in your life that money — on its own — simply cannot.