'The Right Thing to Do'

Patsy and Gerry Kirk

Gerry ('65, '73) and Patsy Kirk ('69, '75). Patsy always knew she would be a teacher. At an early age she would gather her friends to play school.

"I was going to be an elementary teacher from day one," Patsy Kirk ('69, '75). "You could ask me when I was 10 years old and I would tell you, 'I'm going to be a teacher.'"

Her father, who was an engineer, wanted her to utilize her considerable academic strengths as a mathematician or an engineer, but she would have none of it. Teaching was her calling.

"It just appealed to me," she said. So much so, in fact, that she taught elementary school for 39 years.

Same Drive, Different Focus

Gerry Kirk in Indonesia

Gerry Kirk in Mokokerto, East Java, Indonesia in 2018 talking with performers about their music. (Photo courtesy Patsy Kirk)

Patsy's husband, Gerry ('65, '73), was similarly driven, but in a different way. His professional goals were influenced by a love of music.

"Since I was a junior in high school, I said, 'I'm going to be a band director,'" he explained. "That was it; I was just totally focused on what I wanted to do."

Right out of college Gerry landed a position as a band director and taught music for 37 years. All but five of those years he spent just three miles from SDSU at Helix High School where he was band director instructing a range of music groups including the bagpipe band, the orchestra, the marching band, the cadet band, and music theory.

"It was heaven," he said. "I used to tell people I loved my job so much I would teach for free and they would say, 'Don't tell the administration that.'"

Gerry Kirk with trombone ensemble

Gerry with the trombone ensemble, Bonafide Brass circa 2010. (Photo courtesy Patsy Kirk)

Finding Their Rhythm

Patsy and Gerry met through the Marching Aztecs. She was a freshman twirler and he was a graduate student working to complete a teaching credential.

They lacked a common rhythm at first. While Gerry was launching a teaching career, Patsy was still a student, but over time the pair developed a certain harmony.

They were married after Patsy's first year of teaching. "So that was a long time," she said. "Five years off and on—more off than on—but the timing was right."

That was 48 years ago. After long and gratifying teaching careers, the Kirks are retired and enjoy traveling the world and engaging in new experiences.

Gerry conducts, composes, and arranges for Bonafide Brass, a 12-member trombone ensemble. With more free time, they have both reconnected with SDSU and enjoy attending university events.

Patsy and Gerry with Debbie Boyce in Ireland

Patsy and Gerry with Patsy's sister, Debbie Boyce ('78), during a 2019 visit to Iceland. (Photo courtesy Patsy Kirk)

A Lasting Impact

Having supported SDSU through various donations, the Kirks recently began discussing ways to make a more personal lasting impact at the university. They considered creating music or education scholarships along with other possibilities, but ultimately decided to fund an endowment providing scholarships to SDSU students in perpetuity.

Having come from San Diego families of modest means, the Kirks both attended local public schools and worked during their SDSU student days to fund their undergraduate educations. Each managed to graduate in four years debt free.

"And that rarely happens anymore," said Gerry. "Today, kids have to work two or three part-time jobs and go to college, which is really hard."

"I worked, but I was lucky enough to get some scholarship money," said Patsy. "We just decided that the most important thing we could do at this point in our lives was to help kids go to school. It's the right thing to do."

Creating a Legacy

To set up their endowment, the Kirks enlisted the assistance of SDSU Interim Associate Vice President of Development Mary Darling, who lauded the couple's vision for their legacy at SDSU. "Patsy and Gerry are not only generous, but forward-thinking in their support for future generations of SDSU students," she said.

The one stipulation the Kirks made on their scholarships is that recipients come from public schools in San Diego—the city or county. Students from any academic discipline will be eligible.

"By limiting our funding to a particular area, we would not be opening doors to careers and studies that don't exist now," Patsy explained. "There is always something new coming along and we will let the university select students in need."

"We wanted as few constraints as possible," Gerry said. "But we really wanted to keep it local because we are local."

Gerry and Patsy with Brian Dutcher at a kick-off rally

Gerry and Patsy with SDSU men's basketball head coach Brian Dutcher at the "I am SDSU" kick-off rally. (Photo courtesy Patsy Kirk)

Kids Are Their Priority

With so many possibilities to choose from, philanthropic decision-making might seem a daunting task. But for the Kirks, who basically shared the same goal—to become educators—long before they ever met, the choice was simple.

"We don't have any children," Patsy said.

"Everybody asks us, 'Do you have children?'" Gerry continued. "And I say, 'We have thousands of kids.'

"Kids in college are our top priority. We want to take care of the students."

Just as they always have.

You, like the Kirks, can make an impact on SDSU students. Contact Amy Walling at awalling@sdsu.edu or (619) 508-9255 to start exploring your giving options.