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.”