Student Spotlight

Dirk family pays it forward; Rudy Blanco awarded scholarship

March 01, 2016
Mary Dirk, Rudy Blanco, Patrick Dirk and Chancellor Gary Brahm

Mary Dirk, Rudy Blanco, Patrick Dirk and Chancellor Gary Brahm pose with the oversized check representing the scholarship the Dirks presented on Feb. 29 to Blanco.

Mary and Patrick Dirk know what it’s like to be down to your last dollar. They also know the value of education in lifting working adults into better careers and opportunities.

“We have been very blessed,” they said in unison Monday at Brandman University’s central office in Irvine, minutes before officially awarding Rudy Blanco, a social sciences major at the Ontario campus, the first Dirk Scholarship.

Deciding to create a scholarship grew out of the Dirk’s admiration for Brandman University’s commitment to helping adult learners complete their educations as well as their own story of early struggles and ultimate success and to help veterans in particular.

“We’re living proof you can work your way up,” said Patrick Dirk, a member of the university’s Board of Regents. “We’ve lived the American Dream and we want to help the men and women in service because they protect the freedom in that dream.”

Reading the thank-you note

Rudy Blanco reads his thank-you letter to Mary and Patrick Dirk as Sarah Catz and Brandman University Chancellor Gary Brahm look on.

For Blanco, the scholarship will help cover his expenses as he works toward completing his undergraduate degree in the first summer session. He plans to walk in the May commencement exercises and is weighing his options for continuing his education by getting a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy.

Blanco, who served 10 years in the Army with multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Jordan, first found out about Brandman while recovering from injuries. He transferred credits earned during his deployments and began taking classes at the Ontario campus.

In accepting the scholarship, Blanco read a prepared statement to the Dirks, who were visibly moved.

“Thank you for investing and supporting my educational goals. It’s difficult for a former military service member to transition into a civilian education system with the psychological and/or financial aspects that impact their lives dramatically. The scholarship you provide for our veterans provides an instant sense of gratification and motivation. I have never applied for scholarships. I attend class every semester and aim for excellence … I would like to thank my support system of family, friends and the Wounded Warrior Project for helping me achieve my goals. Thank you again, Mr. and Mrs. Dirk.”

The scholarship, said Blanco later, really helped him realize how well he was doing, that his hard work wasn’t going unnoticed.

Rudy Blanco and family

Rudy Blanco (far right) poses with friend Nancy Flores, his mom, Lenore Jara, and sister Angelina Jara behind the symbolic scholarship check.

Accompanying Blanco to the brief awards ceremony were his mother, Lenore Jara, his sister Angelina Jara and friend Nancy Flores.

“I’ve always been very proud of him. I expected him to want an education,” said his mother. Blanco will be the first in his family to graduate from college.

Like Blanco, Patrick Dirk knows what it’s like to go to college after time in service. He was 27 and had worked full time in the National Guard, in sales and as a collection officer for the state of North Dakota before getting the opportunity to go to Bismarck State while still working for the state. Mary Dirk was also earning her associate degree. She said they had $100 dollars between them when they married and most of it was gone within days.

Eventually the couple moved on to the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, with three children in tow and a fourth on the way, living in a men’s dorm where they served as resident advisors. Patrick Dirk earned a master’s degree in accounting with a minor in computer science.

What followed is indeed a classic success story, starting with an accounting role with the company now known as KPMG and then becoming controller of Kroy, a manufacturer of lettering devices. Eventually the Dirks started Troy, which began as the manufacturer of print drums for impact printers and over time moved into security printing solutions.

The couple worked together for 40 years. “She was always involved,” said Patrick Dirk. The couple has since branched out by adding an olive oil business, Pasolivo, to their list of enterprises. “It’s the best you can get,” said Mary Dirk.

They feel the same way about Brandman. “It’s very humbling to be involved,” Patrick Dirk said, adding that while attending the first Alumni Association event he was amazed at the stories he heard from everyone. He’s also proud of his fellow board members for being generous with their time and gifts to the university.

The Dirks and other contributors to the university are now featured on a donor recognition wall leading from the lobby to the classroom area of the Irvine campus.

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