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Dayton Engineer

A $24 Check and a $1 Million Gift

By Eric F. Spina

This is an inspiring story about the American dream. Lived by a Chinese immigrant.

It’s a real-life narrative about perseverance, hard work, ingenuity, honor, selflessness — and gratitude.

It’s a heartwarming tale of a $24 check and a $1 million gift.

Over lunch on campus Tsu-Teh (Larry) Soong ‘55 told me he came to the United States six decades ago with a scholarship from the University of Dayton to study mechanical engineering. He spoke very little English,

He came here with a sense of honor and deep love for his family. That’s why he tucked his first paycheck for $24.65 from washing dishes into an envelope and sent it home to his father in Tapei, Taiwan, where the family had resettled after mainland China fell to Communist rule. He made that unselfish gesture to honor his parents, who highly valued education.

He came here to UD, a stranger in a strange land, but knew higher education could be his pathway to opportunity. Every night, as he burned the midnight oil translating his textbooks from English into Chinese well into the wee hours of the morning in his dorm room, he thought about giving up.

But he persevered.

A Marianist brother, his dining hall supervisor, affectionately gave him the nickname Larry after struggling to pronounce his name. The name stuck, and his dream of becoming an engineer took hold.

In his sophomore year, he took a bus downtown to work as a draftsman in a land-use planning firm. With a better-paying job, a scholarship and a growing knowledge of English, he went on to earn his bachelor’s degree.

Later, he earned a master’s degree and doctorate in engineering sciences from Purdue University and spent the bulk of his career at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he became an internationally recognized authority on developing techniques for protecting structures against severe wind and earthquakes.

Now a distinguished professor emeritus, he and his wife, Dottie, want to give back in a way that honors his humble beginnings in this country. They’ve committed $1 million for scholarships for talented students from low- and moderate-income means as well as for international students.

The couple made the gift after a visit to Buffalo from Bonnie Crews in our Advancement Division and before stepping foot on campus. It was Larry’s first trip back in 64 years and Dottie’s very first.

"I would never have been able to come to the University of Dayton without a scholarship. I'm very grateful,” said the soft-spoken engineer. “It’s time to give back,” added Dottie.

The University of Dayton fueled Larry’s American dream and now, in his retirement, he and Dottie are trying to ensure that the American dream is accessible for talented students, domestic and international.

It’s quite a story.

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