Falling in love. It’s magical and elicits a feeling of euphoria. Our heart pounds. We get butterflies in our stomach. Our palms sweat, our speech may even stammer and some experts say it takes only a fifth of a second. While the experience is different for everyone, it is magical none-the-less.
For one man, we don’t know if he felt butterflies or if his palms sweated, and it probably took longer than a fifth of a second. It’s also unlikely he thought a visit to Ross-Ade Stadium for a football game would ignite that magic. But we do know that his love for Purdue was fueled by observing so infectious an enthusiasm and deep a love that he could not come away untouched.
Don Becker’s love for Purdue began with his life-long friend, Purdue alumnus Tom Luken (M’73).
Luken studied, played football and developed a loyalty for his alma mater that continues to this day. But his love for Purdue doesn’t come just from playing football and being part of a team. Nor does it come from studying all night or from life in a fraternity. Not even from going to Harry’s Chocolate Shop with friends. His love for Purdue comes from all of these things combined – things that gave him the total educational experience, something he would not have had if not for a scholarship.
After graduating from Purdue with a degree in management, Luken played six years in the National Football League for the Philadelphia Eagles. His professional management career of 31 years started with the Kroger Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. He reflected on thoughts of his first encounter with Becker, a zone manager at the time, who gave an address at a Kroger manager training session, "I sat there listening and thinking to myself, if this guy can do it, so can I," chuckled Luken.
But the chuckle of laughter turned to tears as he recalled stories about his friend with nothing less than profound sentiment and obvious devotion. “He was a dedicated husband and father, committed community leader and an exceptional executive who valued no level of executive promise more than the common bond of friendship," Luken added. “He was my friend.”
While in Cincinnati, their paths did not often meet. "Don was at a much higher level in the company, so there wasn't much chance for interacting or for us to hang out," said Luken. But their individual Kroger career paths led each man to Indianapolis, where an unlikely but everlasting friendship began.
Luken shared stories about Purdue and his football years, both as a Boilermaker and an Eagle. But it was his love for Purdue that intrigued Becker the most.
"Dad connected with people who he thought were real and honest,” said Becker’s daughter, Mackenzie Becker Rice. “Tom's real, heartfelt honesty was apparent to my father. He really fell in love with Purdue because of Tom." One visit to West Lafayette for a Purdue football game soon became an annual tradition. The pair would walk around campus and go to Harry’s, and sometimes they would not even make it into the stadium. Most of their time away from work was spent together, sharing laughter and a love for people.
One word sums up both men: compassionate. They did whatever they could for whomever they could. "They both just had such a love for helping others," said Rice. When Don Becker passed away unexpectedly in February 2011, the outpouring of love came full-circle, with many wanting to do something in his memory, including establishing a scholarship at Miami University, Rice's alma mater. "Others started a scholarship at The Boy Scouts of America because my dad thought that organization was very important," explained Rice.
What Rice and her mother, Lynn Becker, realized along the way was that nothing had been done to include Purdue. "Because Purdue meant so much to Tom, and by extension my dad, it just made sense for us to do something there," said Rice.
Rice and her mother connected with Purdue's Office of Planned Giving to discuss what options were available. In the end, they felt a scholarship was befitting. Taking advantage of the Indiana Challenge Match, a scholarship that would honor and memorialize the friendship between Luken and Becker was established. “It’s about the memories they created with each other and for those around them,” stated Becker’s wife, Lynn.
Like other endowments, scholarships are many times made in memory of someone. They are a way for friends and family to celebrate what was important in the life of their loved one. For some, that is education or a community of friendships at their alma mater, or like Becker, a purely altruistic desire to help others.
Establishing this scholarship was a deeply personal decision for Rice and her mother. Becker had struggled to put himself through college, switching to different institutions to find the financial assistance he needed to complete his education. It was at Central State University where he joined ROTC and received the assistance he needed to graduate with his bachelor’s degree. “I love the fact that what we’ve done will allow someone else, who couldn’t afford it, have a college experience like I did and like Tom did, which was vastly different from my dad’s experience,” said Rice. “And doing this for Tom was so meaningful!”
The Tom Luken Scholarship in Memory of Don Becker Endowment is how Rice and her mother made it personal. “It’s continuing my dad’s name. It’s continuing what he was all about and that’s paying it forward,” said Rice. “What better way to memorialize him, and to honor his friendship with Tom and the love they shared for Purdue University, than by investing in people of Purdue because that’s what they’re all about – furthering their investment and compassion in people.”