There’s a treasured folder in Steve and Lisa Todd’s Portland home.
It contains letters written by sons and daughters, telling of ambitions sparked and dreams fulfilled, of passion and gratitude.
“I wouldn’t have been able to go to school without you,” some say.
They are the stories of the numerous lives changed, due in large part to the couple’s philanthropy.
The Todds fund two scholarships. One is for members of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln gymnastics team, of which Steve was a member. The other is for Huskers pursuing a career in special education.
The Todds had discussed giving back to UNL, where they both attended and where Steve received a diploma. But the prospect of becoming benefactors felt daunting, like an opportunity one needed to qualify for.
“We really didn’t know how to go about things,” Steve said. “And then Bill (Reece, Senior Director of Gift Planning at the University of Nebraska Foundation) came to us.”
The ease and accessibility of the process took them aback.
“It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got,” Steve said. “Depending on what resources you’ve got available, you can do things on a very small scale or a large scale.”
The Todds opted to do both. They have involved the University of Nebraska Foundation in their estate plan. “We can actually see our scholarships being put to use, and then the rest will be going into our estate. We wanted both of those concepts in our scholarships,” Lisa said. “Impacting someone’s life is an incredible feeling.”
When it came time for college, Steve and Lisa weren’t interested in leaving Lincoln.
The city had raised them, and, as sophomores at Lincoln High School, had brought them together.
Going to UNL “was a natural thing,” they agreed.
Steve tried out for the gymnastics team and made the roster. Following their sophomore year, they got married, and Lisa entered the professional world, and Steve continued his coursework.
After graduation, they moved around — from Nebraska to Utah to California to Washington to Oregon — and settled in the Pacific Northwest. They’ve lived in Portland for nearly three decades, longer than anywhere else.
“But this is home too,” Lisa said of Lincoln.
When the Todds lived near Seattle, Lisa was running a recreation program for handicapped students. One day, a boy with Down syndrome walked in, interested in getting involved with the Special Olympics. Eight years later, the Todds became backup guardians for the boy. Decades later, he’s an integral part of their family and played a major role in the Todds’ decision to fund their first scholarship.
“To see that that’s where this whole thing transpired from is probably what touches our heart the most,” Lisa said. “We weren’t aware that the university had a program in special education, so when we checked into it, we were pretty ecstatic. We are helping students that will eventually help that population that we love so much.”
Speaking of private funding, Steve said, “When you’re a student, you don’t think about that. You’re thinking about how you’re going to pay for groceries. But it was just so simple. It took us a very short amount of time, and the first check we wrote, it just made us feel so good. It really did. The process was so smooth and easy. And again, it didn’t matter what funding you had available. Every little bit helps.”
They’re also active members of their alumni chapter in Oregon.
“That’s kind of like our family and our connection to home,” Lisa said. “We feel closer to Nebraska by doing that, so we feel like we need to be involved and take part in community service projects. So it’s not just Nebraska football, volleyball and basketball.”
New members of the Burnett Society, the couple say they enjoy reading stories about their peers.
Steve said, “Just seeing where people have come from and why they’ve donated and where their passions are, it’s quite interesting.”
“It’s a certain pride, having gone to the university and to be affiliated with it. We talk proudly about how great of an experience it was and what a great school it is.”
And now, Lisa said, “we are actually a part of Nebraska. We have given back, and we’ve done what we could do. And even though we live in Oregon and we’re separated by thousands of miles, we have this true connection with the university.”
“We love what we did,” Sharon Holyoke said. “And we just hope we leave the world a better place than we started.”
Upon earning his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering (1959), Floyd joined The Boeing Co. in Wichita, Kansas. He had additional postings in Huntsville, AL, working on the Apollo moon mission and Seattle, WA where he retired after 36 years. Floyd’s early years were in Wichita and Hutchinson, Kansas, and the family moved to Lincoln at the start of the seventh grade. Floyd played in dance bands and enlisted in the US Navy Reserve Security Group to help pay his UNL costs.
What was the first job you ever had?
Paper carrier for the Lincoln Journal for about three years starting in the ninth grade.
Best advice anyone ever gave you?
I don’t recall any “That’s It!” moment. However, the contributions of three folks to my experiencing a successful career and life do stand out. Professor Harper for impressing the need for situational awareness and thinking on your feet when in the laboratory or other transitional situations; Dean Green for emphasizing the need for continuing education, engineering ethics and professionalism, including obtaining the Professional Engineer certification ( I did); and Professor “Doc” Elliot who demonstrated that humor is possible while learning about all sorts of life and casualty insurance contracts; knowledge that was very helpful after graduation as I transitioned to an independent adult making prudent decisions regardless of sometimes overzealous agents!
Who is someone from history you’d want to invite to a dinner party if you could and why?
I’ve recently become interested in the ancient civilizations; especially those along the Nile River. And, as an engineer at heart I’d like to invite a chief engineer from the “Pyramid & Temple Design & Construction” organization from about 2600 B.C.
What is the first question you’d ask that guest from history?
Describe the material handling techniques for getting the one- and two-ton limestone and granite blocks from quarry to installation in a pyramid or temple. Then there would be a hundred more questions — no time to eat!
What is the one song you would be sure to play to set the mood at the dinner party?
Music to set a mood uses timbre, harmonies, and tempo rather than words. So, I’d probably use my big band arrangements of “Sentimental Journey” and “Slow Boat to China” along with ballad selections from the Glenn Miller ballads song book that use his clarinet lead voicing.
What is the question that you like to be asked the most?
Folks who don’t have a technical background that ask why I still approach and analyze things like an engineer; “…You retired from Boeing 20-some years ago.” My reply is I practiced engineering at Boeing, I was developing as an engineer from grade-school days by reading an old edition of the “Book of Knowledge” encyclopedia during anti-polio afternoon naps and learned many technical things like about 2- and 4-cycle engines; from grade school and on I wanted to be an automobile designer, which led to designing, building, and submitting six cars to the Fisher Body Craftsman Guild competition. This eventually led to acquiring a 1963 Riviera — a classic car with many lines like my 1954 Fisher Body entry (first state award which paid freshman tuition!)
Why do you plan to leave a gift to the University of Nebraska in your estate?
My parents instilled in me the practice of charitable giving including paying or giving back to those that that enabled me. The education I received at UNL prepared me, a bottom quartile graduate, so well that I could contribute to the certification of the B-52G my first week at Boeing! The “payback account” was already accruing payback chits. I learned many years ago from the plaque on the Mueller Bell Tower that it was his payback for his free education. As my career and investments increased far beyond my early predictions, I recalled the plaque on the bell tower and decided to include the university in my estate planning to pay off all of my payback chits.
UNMC alumna shares passion for nursing and giving back
Sharon Holyoke remembers that it was December 1966.
The daughter of public school teachers, Sharon was raised in a small community in America’s heartland, taught at an early age to live below her means. The best kind of teaching, they say, is the kind that sticks. So Sharon took that lesson everywhere she went.
Sharon remembers that she had recently graduated from the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing and that her monthly paycheck was around $600.
Even though her husband, Edward Holyoke Jr. — Ted — was in his first year of medical school at the time, Sharon remembers pulling out her checkbook and sending $100 to the University of Nebraska Foundation, to support the institution that had given her an education. It felt like an awful lot of money.
“Ted and I believed it was important to be good with money,” she said. “But it was just as important to do good with money.”
Sharon hasn’t shaken the feeling more than a half-century later.
“The more we gave,” she recalled, “the more satisfaction we received.”
The Holyoke legacy is a long one that can be traced back to before the Revolutionary War.
In the 18th century, Edward Holyoke served as president for more than three decades of what was then Harvard College, teaching the likes of Samuel Adams, John Hancock and John Adams.
Today, the surname travels far — especially in Nebraska medical circles. Edward Holyoke, M.D., Sharon’s father-in-law, was an instructor at UNMC for more than 50 years. There’s a giving society that carries his name in the College of Medicine. Ted also graduated from the UNMC college.
In terms of potential career paths, Sharon’s opportunities were slim.
“Growing up, there weren’t a lot of options for women,” Sharon said.
But Sharon knew that she wanted to combine nursing and teaching, and with her father’s encouragement, she was steadfast as she pursued both.
Later, Sharon attended graduate school at the University of Colorado, where she earned her master’s degree while her husband was in his residency. The two returned to Nebraska, put down roots in Ogallala and raised two daughters, Mary Virginia and Ann Christin; a third daughter, Megan Lee, died in infancy. They later returned to Omaha, and Sharon taught at UNMC for more than 30 years, guiding more than 2,000 students through the College of Nursing. Ted mentored young physicians in the UNMC rural residency program.
But in August 1993, the Holyoke family was dealt a painful, incalculable blow when Mary Virginia, the Holyokes’ oldest daughter, died due to a heart condition. Ginny was 23 years old and pursuing a law degree. She had recently gotten married and moved to Omaha.
“It hurt. And it made us realize that we aren’t going to live forever,” Sharon said. “But it caused us to take a new look at giving. Ted liked to say that, ‘You don’t see a U-Haul behind a hearse.’”
A scholarship was created in Ginny’s honor at Hastings College, where she had been valedictorian and homecoming queen.
There are multiple scholarships carrying the Holyoke name at UNMC, including two with Sharon’s name: one for nursing students and the other for general scholarships.
“Our education gave us the tools to earn a living,” Sharon said. “We always wanted to give back to the foundation to thank them.”
Ted died in 2015 after a nearly decadelong battle with gastrointestinal cancer.
Sharon meets with the recipients of her scholarships and is quick to encourage them to give back. She’s not shy to inquire if some are dating. One told her that she didn’t have time for dating, which sent Sharon into laughter.
“I love to connect with students — they’re just delightful,” she said. “They’re just so refreshing and so impressive.”
Caitlin Jordan, a recipient of the Sharon Bonham Holyoke Nursing Scholarship, had the opportunity to meet Sharon last year.
“She gave us great words of wisdom regarding life and nursing,” said Caitlin. “She’s a wonderful lady and is extremely passionate about nursing as a profession.”
In her will, Sharon has committed to funding two scholarships — one in her name and one in Ted’s.
When asked what her ultimate philanthropic hope is, Sharon finds the words with ease.
“We love what we did,” she said. “And we just hope we leave the world a better place than we started.”
UNL alumna Willa Cather survived a pandemic from 1918-1920.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Charlotte Perry immediately volunteered to deliver meals to older people in California, where she has resided for much of her adult life. Soon after signing up, the North Platte, Nebraska, native got a notice asking if she would like to have meals delivered to her instead.
“I got to thinking, well, maybe I’m the one that’s supposed to be getting the meals, and I shouldn’t be carrying these trays up to all these old people, since I’m one of them,” Charlotte said, as her laughter echoed through the video call.
Despite opting out of delivering meals, Charlotte still found herself helping in her own way — writing uplifting notes to low-income older adults through the Salvation Army’s meal delivery program.
“I think it’s important to give back no matter what the situation is. It makes you feel good, too,” she said.
Charlotte has found great joy in helping others. She has volunteered with more than 20 organizations since she retired in 2003 as a children’s librarian in Chula Vista, California. She also began supporting the University of Nebraska, which, she said, will always be in her heart.
Charlotte established the Charlotte Walter Perry Excellence in Education Fund in 2007. She spent two of her undergraduate years at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, then called Kearney State College, and completed her degree in elementary education at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 1964. Because of her fruitful experiences at both universities, her gift benefits the College of Education and Human Sciences at UNL and the College of Education at UNK.
“I think education is very important, and all of these young people need to have a career,” Charlotte said. “That’s our future. The young people become educated and good citizens.”
After graduating from UNL, Charlotte received a master’s degree in library science from the University of Denver and worked as a junior high librarian for two years. She then packed her suitcase and headed to Germany, where she worked as a librarian on a military base for the Army Special Services. After a couple years of traveling, she settled down in San Diego, California, became a librarian at a public library and then landed a job as a children’s librarian for the Chula Vista Elementary School District.
Charlotte credits her Midwestern upbringing for her great work ethic, stating that, in the 1950s, one had to be hardworking to succeed. She said she wants to be known as someone who was patriotic, was a good American and someone who did her part in the community.
“People sometimes talk about what is between the dashes in your obituary,” Charlotte said. “I would say that I’ve lived well. I’ve had fun. I’ve helped others and have been a good friend to a lot of people. So I guess that would be my legacy — that I have been a good person.”