Friends and colleagues help raise money for a scholarship, and Ron Sherman decides to go even further to help students at USF.
A packed class of USF student-athletes waits in anticipation as the evening’s special guest steps through the doorway. He sports an easy smile, tortoiseshell glasses and a shock of straight dark hair swept casually to the side. Ron Sherman is in the house and has come bearing gifts – insights to create career breaks, and cookies he’s baked to break the ice. Sherman quickly settles into a lively lecture on networking to the participants of the Selmon Mentoring Institute, named for late, great USF athletic director and NFL Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon. And the students eat it up, right down to the final tidbit of advice and last bite of the chocolate chips.“When you bring along homemade cookies, they’re going to remember you,” he says later. “Plus, it’s a great way to get everyone to relax.”
Sherman has always had a knack for making everyone feel comfortable, a gift that served him well during his long and successful tenure in USF Advancement, culminating with his retirement in 2014 as development director for the USF Alumni Association. And it’s easy to understand why he connects so naturally with students, many of whom continue to stay in touch with him, whether to ask for advice about an occupational question or simply to let him know how they’re doing. For 35 years, his gregarious, people-oriented style was a big part of the fundraising fabric at USF. In fact, he had accumulated so many friends and connections early on that colleagues dubbed him “Mr. Mayor,” a nickname that stuck with him. But now his presence at USF is being felt in another way – born from his desire to give back to the university that gave him so much, and to make a difference in the lives of first-generation college students who have benefitted USF through their talents and time. The result is the Ron A. Sherman Endowed Scholarship, which has been awarded in each of the last two school years to a promising “junior or senior who has shown a love for USF through active involvement and a willingness to make a positive impact on the USF Community.”
As his retirement neared, Sherman began thinking increasingly about personally endowing a scholarship for students who had faced the kinds of challenges he knew well as the first member of his family to attend college. “It was at the top of my bucket list,” he recalls. “I wanted to create a scholarship that helps a deserving student limit the number of hours they might have to work in a part-time job, give them more time to focus on their studies and – just as great – convey to them that somebody believes in them.”
This is a story of how that scholarship took shape in a most surprising fashion three years ago – and how it will continue to grow and live on thanks to the expertise of an experienced financial planner and the guidance of USF’s Office of Gift Planning.
It’s also the story a true USF original – a man who followed a road from humble, working-class roots in Baltimore to an institution that forever changed his life, and where he would eventually become an institution unto himself.
The Value of Professional Financial Guidance
The tale of giving began to unfold at Sherman’s retirement party. Rarely at a loss for words, he was rendered virtually speechless when friends presented him with an amazing gift: nearly $50,000 they had raised from 200 separate donors so he could start a scholarship in his name. “We intended to raise $35,000 – a thousand for each year Ron served, but the amount kept growing and growing,” recalls Randy Norris, a longtime friend of Sherman’s and USF alumnus who coordinated the gift. “I just thought it was fitting that we honor him in this way after all the money he raised for USF over the years. The impact that Ron has had on this university will be experienced for decades to come.”
The gift was more than enough to get a scholarship rolling, but Sherman wanted to find a way to expand the amount. So he enlisted the help of a veteran financial advisor. In this case, the person was Tori Boswell, a graduate of USF’s MBA program, an investment professional for Raymond James Financial and a longtime family friend.
After graduating from USF, Boswell earned her certification as an investment management analyst from the prestigious Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. From there, she moved to Chicago to work as one of the few women on the famously chaotic floor of the Chicago Board of Trade. And then she moved back to her native Tampa, traveling the country for 17 years to teach other financial advisors the fine points of various investments.
“I knew I eventually wanted to get off the road and help people achieve their goals as a financial advisor,” she says. Boswell did just that several years ago, joining Raymond James and beginning to grow her list of business clients. In no time, Sherman was one of them.“When I was looking at my estate after I retired, and thinking about my scholarship, I turned to Tori,” he explains. “I like to be Bulls-centric, but beyond being a USF grad and a friend, she’s very wise with investments. And I told her, ‘I’d like to leave a legacy on top of the initial amount raised.’ ”
Sherman also wanted to explore how the investment could one day benefit USF, so he and Boswell paid a visit to USF’s vice president of gift planning, Marion Yongue, a longtime friend who was a USF student in the late 1980s and early ’90s when he first met Sherman. Yongue explained the ins-and-outs of making a deferred gift. “Ron was the ideal client, not only because of his USF background but his strong desire to do something meaningful for the university,” Yongue says.
Meanwhile, Boswell structured the investment in a way that could potentially help keep the scholarship fund growing. She knew that because he was 66 years old, he was closing in on the mandatory age of 70-and-a-half to take out minimum required distributions from retirement funds – such as IRAs and tax-deferred investments. “What you can do now is forecast the growth of those accounts and decide how you want to invest that money when the time comes,” Boswell explains.
Sherman already had set up his bank account to have a certain amount of money sent automatically to the initial scholarship fund of $50,000 on the first of each month. The next step involved talking to Boswell about how to build up his investments over the next five years. “The goal is for Tori to grow that investment so that when I’m 70-and-a-half, the principle will stay intact but the earnings – instead of coming to me – will go tax-free to the scholarship. The plan is that every year after that a good amount will go to the fund, in hopes of putting it well over $100,000 in a short period of time.”
For now, Sherman’s scholarship offers just over $2,000 a year to one third- or fourth-year student who has demonstrated a commitment to helping the university – with the hope of one day increasing the amount to $4,000 annually. Interested students apply by submitting an essay and their resume, and are selected by the Foundation.
Two students to date have earned the Sherman Scholarship: Giselle Irio, the 2015-16 recipient, and Alexis Marquez, the current awardee. Irio was a senior double-major in biomedical sciences and public health on a pre-med track when she stumbled upon a link to the new scholarship. In addition to her heavy academic load, she also worked 40 hours a week as a certified nurse assistant.
“I was going overboard on my credits due to my second major, and I needed money to pay for that, but I was also trying to raise my grades so I didn’t want to have to work as much,” she says. When Irio read about the scholarship’s focus, asking applicants how they have made an impact at USF, she decided to apply. After all, she was minoring in leadership and, among other things, been involved in the Emerging Leaders Institute for freshmen and had helped coordinate and lead a student trip to the Amazon in Ecuador to bring vitamins and medical supplies to villages in dire need.
Irio planned to take out a loan if it didn’t work out, so she was ecstatic to learn she had been selected. “Ron is fantastic,” she says. “He’s really welcoming. And when he heard that I still had some expenses to cover, he arranged through the scholarship to get me an extra $500. That helped so much.”
Sherman and his wife, Alix Franzblau, have hosted Irio for dinner at their house, and he has made it clear that she’ll always be part of his scholarship network – a group that can support one another as the numbers grow. “It’s very empowering,” says Irio, who will be attending Burrell Medical School in New Mexico next year. “Since it’s geared to first-generation students, we can help each other in ways we wouldn’t otherwise be able to.”
Sherman feels a keen sense of pride in his students and loves hearing how much the scholarship has helped them. It makes him think of the lessons he learned from donors he connected to USF. “A lot of them taught me that when you give you get,” he says. “You don’t give to get, but when you give, good things happen for you. I really believe that. The giving world is a great place to be.”
“I like to bring people together”
Sherman grew up in a world where higher education wasn’t a given – in fact, both his parents had to work from young ages and never made it out of high school. When they moved Sherman and his older sister to Tampa in the early 1970s, his father supported the family with a job at Webb City in St. Petersburg.
Being uprooted might have been difficult for many teenagers, but Sherman fit right in. He went from not knowing anyone at the start of 10th grade at Chamberlain High School to class vice president by his senior year. And he worked all manner of jobs – mowing yards, driving trucks, selling clothes and serving as a plumber’s assistant – to earn enough money to fulfill his dream of going to college. The family lived close to the USF campus, and Sherman was thrilled to be accepted by the university. He lived at home to save money and bicycled to class. Juggling part-time jobs and schoolwork, he managed to graduate in just over four years as a sociology major. After spending nine years in the mental health field, working with troubled and disadvantaged teens, Sherman took the advice of Larry Scott, one of the first major gift officers for the USF Foundation, and attended a program at Dartmouth University to learn about fundraising.
He returned to Tampa with a new career plan and was hired by longtime USF professional Joe Tomaino to work in USF’s annual fund office. “I did whatever they needed – and became the king of carrying boxes across the campus,” he recalls. From there, he became chief fundraiser for the Colleges of Arts & Letters and Social Sciences (now the College of Arts & Sciences). And that eventually paved the way for his defining work at USF: overseeing major gifts for the Alumni Association as development director.
Nowadays, Sherman enjoys added leisure time with Alix and his three adult children (two sons, Austin and Evan, and daughter Chelsea all attended USF). He keeps busy with golfing, a game he took up to complement his fundraising efforts (and has amassed an impressive seven hole-in-ones to date). He rarely slows down, never missing the chance to share insights and life-lessons as a guest lecturer on campus.
Even in retirement, Sherman is still a fundraiser at heart.
“I like to bring people together who I think should know each other,” he says. “When you’re in fundraising, you’re really in the friend-raising business. So I like to tell people about my 70-and-a-half plan I worked out with Tori. I might say, ‘Have you thought about this?’ I never push USF on anyone, but very often it circles back to the university.”
It is a university that runs through his blood. And now it’s a place where his presence will live on, thanks to a scholarship crafted to keep on giving – not to mention all those tasty home-baked cookies.