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#vandalstrong leads alumni to rally

Find purpose in tragedy.

Just a week after four University of Idaho students were murdered in their off-campus apartment on Nov. 13, 2022, Vandal alumni Gene Taft and Bob Urso, along with Bob’s wife Gail, searched for a way to help. Sitting on the sidelines is not the Vandal way.

“I would hate to see students choose against the university because of this tragedy,” said Taft.

Knowing the biggest obstacle to students going on to college is money, the Ursos and Taft pooled their resources with the goal of endowing four need-based scholarships, one in the name of each student killed, to honor them in perpetuity and to help other students go on to the university.

“It is important no one gets left behind,” Taft said.

Bob Urso and Taft are graduates of the College of Business and Economics and met while serving on the college’s advisory board. They knew immediately where to turn for additional support – their fellow alumni. Within days they were well on their way to endowing all the scholarships – it takes a minimum of $100,000 total to endow four scholarships.

“The support was immediate,” Taft said. “It wasn’t that much of a pitch.”

Urso and Taft were both scholarship recipients at U of I – Urso on a Navy ROTC scholarship and Taft on a general aid scholarship. In fact, U of I wasn’t even on Taft’s radar until a scholarship came his way.

“We know that the average student falls $5,000 a year short,” Urso said. “We know that need-based scholarships are necessary to create opportunities for high school seniors to go on.”

If the support of these alumni isn’t testament enough to what it means to be a Vandal Family, enter Gail Urso, Bob’s wife. Her relationship with the university came through her husband. It now runs so deep she was recognized as an honorary member of the U of I Alumni in 2011. Her passion for the school, its students and its future is palpable.

“If you hurt our family, we’re there,” she said in her strong East Coast accent. “I just love the people there and love going back several times a year.”

The scholarships are held by the U of I Foundation but are the work of its alumni. Other efforts, including a healing garden, are being led by the university. Plans for the garden are still forming, but the goal is for it to be a teaching and learning activity as well as a remembrance – allowing students to develop the plan as part of a class project. The garden will be more than a memorial – it will be a place for students to visit, meditate and reflect on any student lost. A special commemoration will pay tribute to Ethan Chapin, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Madison Mogen.

Article by Jodi Walker, University Communications.

Photo by University Visual Productions

Published in April, 2023.

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