photo of Mary Wells
Mary Wells

Mary Wells helped establish the UC Santa Cruz Silver Slug Award, which provides financial assistance to students who are university employees or their dependents. She dreams of the award’s endowment continuing to increase in size in order to provide more and greater awards each year.

Retired from a UC Santa Cruz career that included roles in Admissions and University Relations, Wells says it makes sense for the university to assist these students toward their aspirations.

“If the university believes in the value of higher education, it should support the higher educational pursuits of its staff who make it happen,” She says. “While UC does provide some assistance for its degree-seeking employees, it’s not always sufficient, and it means a lot for the awardees to receive encouragement and recognition of their effort.”

Building the Silver Slug Award

In 2015, she and fellow retiree Sharon Dirnberger were updating their estate plans when they came up with the idea for the award. They were joined by David Kirk who enthusiastically helped with fundraising and made regular contributions of his own.

They enlisted other members of the UC Santa Cruz Retirees Association, of which Wells was a board member. It took less than a year for the award fund to meet the minimum value for endowments.

In 2018 they chose their first awardee: Tony Soto, a transfer student majoring in legal studies and a full-time campus community safety officer. Subsequent awardees have been an evolutionary and environmental biology doctoral candidate who also manages a natural reserve, a member of the groundskeeper staff completing a linguistics degree, and the son of a longtime employee of the Department of Student Achievement and Equity Innovation—he is the first in his family to attend college.

Wells grew up in Sacramento and realized at an early age that she wanted to live in Santa Cruz.

“It’s a wonderful community and the university is part of what makes this a special place,” she says.

The active Santa Cruz lifestyle also suits her. She skis every winter and runs regularly, recently participating in the 2019 Monterey Bay Half Marathon—“I’m trying to live as long and actively as I can,” she laughs.

She helps run the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Santa Cruz. And she served on the board of the UC Santa Cruz Retirees Association for years since her retirement, leaving the role only recently.

“It’s like the union for retired staff,” she says. “And it keeps you engaged with the campus.”

She has also taken advantage of retirement by traveling—Switzerland, Italy, and Bulgaria for skiing and trips with fellow retirees to Eastern Europe, Vietnam, Cambodia, Spain, and Morocco. A trip to Japan is in the works.

Giving via IRA

Wells continues making regular donations to the Silver Slug Award, and in 2019 she added the award and the UCSC Fund, the campus discretionary fund, to the beneficiaries of her IRA. She noted that as a nonprofit, the university can receive the gift tax-free.

Her hope is that the Silver Slug Award can grow enough that it is able to make a difference for all the employee families who need it.

“It needs to grow more to ensure that it will continue to provide awards for staff,” she says.

The portion of the gift that will go to the UCSC Fund will provide resources to administrators who know the university’s immediate needs, she notes.

“This is a way to know that the funds will be used in a really valuable way,” she says.
“It seemed like the perfect way to give. And it feels good to do that.”

Learn more about planned giving at the UC Santa Cruz Planned Gifts site. 

Make your own gift the Silver Slug Scholarships or to the UC Santa Cruz Fund.