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Don Tocco during a speech at Spring Arbor University (youtube.com)
Don Tocco during a speech at Spring Arbor Uni­versity (youtube.com)

Entre­preneur Don Tocco will give his annual speech on March 28 at 7 p.m. when he will kick off his “Art for Schol­arship” fundraiser by selling one of his original paintings for $15,000 to a 2012 graduate.

Tocco said he antic­i­pated dis­trib­uting up to 20 paintings this year for Art For Schol­arship with at least one in each cat­egory of $5,000, $10,000, and $15,000, for which stu­dents can choose a five to 15-year payment plan.

“We are reaching out to all the alumni at Hillsdale College,” Tocco said. “I believe there’s no better place to give back than the place from which you have received the most,” Tocco said. “That’s why they say, ‘charity begins at home.’”

Tocco said the primary target is 2002 to 2010 alumni because they have had more time to earn and save than alumni from later years.

Tocco isn’t a Hillsdale alumnus or even a college graduate. While he was a broke college student attending Macomb Com­munity College in Warren, Michigan, Tocco said he would sign up for up to 18 credits for five semesters, but found them to be “useless, and boring.” He would drop to six credits: after two and a half years he’d taken 30 credits. He started his career $45,000 in debt after he quit college to work and pay bills.

Tocco said if he had been given schol­ar­ships and fin­ished college, he probably would have ended up working in broad­casting or teaching history or phi­losophy, but he was too broke to wait to work.

“I’m not a trust fund recipient,” Tocco said. “My donation to the college comes from my hard-earned pay every year. No matter how my own economies have been affected by the down­turns, it’s never stopped me from giving what I think is my com­mitted number every year.”

As current stu­dents deplete student schol­ar­ships, Tocco said, they should replenish that money for future stu­dents.

Also, Tocco has only painted about 60 pieces since he started in 2006 com­pared to artists who have painted their entire lives. Tocco said his prices were rea­sonable because he had pre­vi­ously sold sculp­tures for $25,000 a piece.

Tocco has sculpted the top four motor leaders of the last 70 years, which in July were placed in the Auto­motive Hall of Fame: Ed Lundy, CFO of Ford 1947 – 85, Don Peterson, Ford Chairman 87 – 91 who made F-150 truck, Red Pulling, Ford Chairman 1991 – 5, who bought Jaguar for Ford, and Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who saved Ford from going bankrupt.

Several celebrities have bought Tocco’s paintings. They include Bernie Goldberg, who has won 13 Emmy awards and CEO Alan Mulally, rated by Fortune mag­azine as the third greatest leader in the world four years ago.

“Alumni will be able to donate, but they will be getting some­thing, probably greater value in return, that they can cash in later,” Tocco said. “How sweet is that?”

Director of External Rela­tions for Ath­letics Jeffrey Lantis said Tocco has been a longtime friend of Hillsdale College.

“Don Tocco has been very sup­portive of Hillsdale College over the years and his most recent Art for Schol­arship ini­tiative is just another display of his kind gen­erosity,” Lantis said in an email. “This program will be very helpful to us in our fundraising from alumni who have yet to donate to Hillsdale or have not given in a few years.  We are very appre­ciative of this oppor­tunity to benefit the College.”

Half the pro­ceeds will go to future student schol­ar­ships and the rest to Hillsdale College clubs whose members attend Tocco’s annual speech.

Director of Student Activ­ities Ashlyn Landherr, who plans Tocco’s speech, said that 814 stu­dents rep­re­senting 44 clubs signed attended last year’s speech.

“SAB gets reg­is­tration from clubs and we take atten­dance at the event,” Landherr said. “It’s a per­centage of people who show up and that’s how the money breaks down per person.”

Landherr said this is Tocco’s fifth year of giving a lecture. Before that was the Tocco Chal­lenge, where Tocco chal­lenged openly all Hillsdale ath­letes to their choice of sport.

Tocco empha­sized the necessity for schol­ar­ships to open up oppor­tu­nities for other stu­dents.

“The bottom line is they are helping other young people to get the oppor­tunity they had,” Tocco said.