BOCA RATON, FL – Boca Raton resident Ron Wells has spent a lifetime building things, from bridges and dams, to transit systems, highways, and power plants. Although he’s officially retired now, Wells may be building his biggest project to date: a promising future for hundreds of kids who desperately need one.
Wells has given the George Snow Scholarship Fund one of its largest donations to date – a $100,000 gift to kick off The Snow Education Endowment Campaign, a fund that will be self-sustaining, spinning off scholarships as it grows, securing the future of both the organization and the South Florida kids who depend on it. In addition, Wells made an additional $200,000 challenge grant: He will match gifts from the community, up to $200,000, above and beyond his initial gift of $100,000.
Tim Snow, president and founder of the George Snow Scholarship Fund, said, “Ron has inspired us to raise at least $1 million over the next year, which will be added to our current $1.2 million endowment. His generous gift will serve as the foundation of what we hope will be a $20 million endowment that will serve the young people of our community in perpetuity.”
This contribution is one that Ron Wells thought about for a while. “By chance, I met some members of Tim’s board and staff who praised Tim and the work he and the organization do,” said Wells. “I stopped by to see Tim and he told me the story, and then I started attending events. The more involved I became, and the more I learned, the more it hit me, ‘I need to be a part of this in a big way.’”
Wells recognized a sound model when he saw one, and it’s a model that has been growing since it was designed in 1982. That was two years after Tim Snow’s father, George Snow, was killed in a helicopter accident in the Bahamas. It was a loss that devastated the Snow family, as well as the Boca Raton community. Snow had been a successful developer in Boca’s early boom days, and before that, a math teacher. It was the teaching part that called out to Tim and his siblings to build a memorial to their dad that lived and breathed and meant something. That became a college scholarship fund dedicated to helping kids who needed it most.
At the heart of the organization are the children. There is no document that outlines strict criteria for a scholarship award, but there is an underlying values system that seems to identify Snow scholars. First of all, students have to show they are trying to help themselves – either through school activities and grades or community involvement. They are most likely from homes stricken by poverty or illness, and they are often the first in their families to attend college. There are intellects in the group, kids from foreign countries, kids who are sick and kids who struggle, but they all have one thing in common, and that is the sheer will to succeed. And it made Ron Wells sit up and take notice.
“It’s the stories these kids have,” Wells says. “When you see these kids stand up and they talk about how Dad left the home a long time ago. Mom doesn’t work – she may be an addict; they have younger siblings and they are getting three hours of sleep a night because of working two jobs and they are getting straight As in high school.”
Those stories inspired Wells to help establish an endowment for the George Snow Scholarship Fund. Wells said it’s not about him and he doesn’t refer to himself as a philanthropist, a do-gooder or anything special.
But Wells is special. A native of New Jersey, he has had a highly successful career in construction as a civil engineer, having worked for the national firm, Peter Kiewit Sons Inc. for 20 years, then Dillingham Construction Company, where he worked on international assignments. He came to Boca Raton in 1988. Wells left Dillingham in 1996 and joined the San Francisco firm Stacy and Witbeck Inc. as President and CEO. By the time he retired in 2008, Stacy and Witbeck has achieved revenues in excess of $500 million, and had earned several national awards for construction and management excellence. Wells had a lot to do with that, although he’d never say so.