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November 2, 2012

Game Starters: Rita Zawisza

Rita Zawisza

Rita Zawisza, associate director of events for the John Purdue Club. (Purdue University photo/Paul Sadler)
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Rita Zawisza can recall multiple occasions when Purdue's supporters -- from business executives to astronauts -- have remarked that she has the best job in the world.

Each time it happens, Zawisza enthusiastically agrees. As associate director of events for the John Purdue Club, she ensures that Purdue Athletics donors have fantastic experiences at all club functions and during club trips. Her job also includes fostering the often-heartwarming relationships between student-athletes and the donors who fund their education.

What are your most important job duties?

First, we always like to clarify that the athletics department is financially independent from the University. We use no student fees or taxpayer money, so our budget is based on TV revenue, tickets sales and private giving. Because of this model, the John Purdue Club's mission is to raise all of the scholarship money awarded to athletes. This year, that scholarship bill is estimated to be more than $10 million.

In my role -- which I've had for the past 10 years -- I plan events and travel for the John Purdue Club's 8,300 members. That includes one or two major travel events each year, events on campus, and pre- and post-game dinners and receptions. In all, we coordinate about 50 events each year.

What are some examples of events you plan?

Later this month, club members will be headed to New York City, where the men's basketball team is playing in the 2K Sports Classic. During the four-day trip, club members will be able to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the NBC studios, visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, see the 9/11 memorial and go to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. I’m sure our donors will love the Big Apple experience, plus they’ll get to witness some great basketball in Madison Square Garden!

This summer, I helped to plan and host a tour to the summer Olympics in London for 23 John Purdue Club members, who witnessed our own Purdue platform diver, David Boudia, win a gold medal. I wish every Purdue fan could have been in the stands to witness the pride and adulation the crowd had for this young man. I just happened to have a Purdue pennant in my tote bag that I whipped out during the celebrating to let the world know David was from Purdue.

The John Purdue Club’s other events include facilities dedications, Hall of Fame inductions, our Senior Salute for athletes whose eligibility has expired, and our the Old Gold and Black Dinner, which is meant to thank our donors who give at the All-American and higher levels. We also hold an annual endowment lunch to honor all those who underwrite full scholarships, and to honor the respective athletes who receive those scholarships.

What's your favorite part about your job?

I truly love working with the donors -- they are the ones who often tell me I have the best job in the world. They view our relationships with student-athletes and our involvement in a worldwide sports brand as really exciting and fun.

I love telling donors' and student-athletes' stories. For donors, that might mean going to student-athletes and saying, "John Purdue Club members donate to Purdue because they believe in you." Oftentimes, that really inspires athletes and fills them with a sense of pride. I'll also go to donors and encourage them to get to know a particular athlete, who might be a stellar student and a great person. I love bringing these two very important and special groups together.

What do you do during games?

Basically, I'm doing whatever needs to be done to ensure our donors have a good time. During football games, I sometimes drive people in a golf cart if they are struggling to walk up the hill. I often run special errands or just stop by tailgates to say hello. John Purdue Club staff members and I are on call during games to take care of any special requests or needs our members may have. It’s a wonderful experience and one I embrace. People are right on when they say I have the best job in the world.

Writer: Amanda Hamon, 49-61325, ahamon@purdue.edu