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Building a Lasting Gift for a Special Grandfather

Building a Lasting Gift for a Special Grandfather

By Dave Scheiber

As a young boy, Gary Porter marveled at his grandfather's deft touch in creating complex blueprints, bringing houses and offices to life around the Tampa Bay area.

His grandpa, Don Auletta, was a respected architect who primarily designed residential structures in Pinellas County. The two shared a special bond, with Porter even getting to work as a teen apprentice at times.

"My grandfather was a Renaissance Man," he says proudly. "He was also a painter, photographer and musician - and had a great sense of humor, too.

Though Porter built a different career masterplan - studying physical rehabilitation in college and later creating his own job in the field with the City of Gainesville - he has also drawn up his own blueprint of sorts for honoring his late grandfather, who died in 2001.

It has recently taken shape with an estate gift to the University of South Florida: the Don J. Auletta Excellence in Architecture Scholarship, which will presented to deserving students after Porter's passing. At only 41, he's planning to be around for quite a while. But the Largo native feels good to have fittingly preserved the legacy of the man who influenced him so deeply.

"He was such a truly giving person," he says. "That's why I stipulated that this scholarship should go to someone who has contributed in a meaningful way to the Tampa Bay area."

What makes the gift somewhat unusual is that neither Porter nor his grandfather attended USF. But living in the area made each keenly aware of the role the university has long played in the community. And when the time came to create a gift, Porter wanted to establish it at an institution in the region where he and his grandfather shared so many memories - as opposed to the University of Florida, where he earned his B.S. and M.S. in applied physiology and kinesiology exercise and sports science.

Porter was drawn to athletic training after injuring his arm while playing football at Pinellas Park High School his senior year. He was fascinated by how the trainer helped him heal, and decided that was the field he wanted to pursue in college. After an unofficial summer internship with the trainer, he enrolled at UF to further his knowledge. Once in Gainesville, Porter volunteered as a football trainer at area high schools. And that, in turn, led to a formative - though temporary - experience at USF.

During the final year of his undergraduate work, he read that Bulls were preparing for their first football season in 1997. Porter immediately contacted the team's head athletic trainer, Steve Walz, and was hired to do athletic training for the defensive line. The valuable hands-on work came with an added bonus: Porter, a longtime Tampa Bay Bucs fan, was occasionally able to chat on the sidelines with Lee Roy Selmon, the former Bucs great and USF athletics department legend who had helped bring football to the school. "It was amazing to actually be able to talk to him," he recalls. "I'll never forget that."

After the season, Porter completed his bachelor's degree, went on to earn his master's and began his PhD at Florida. "But the program was in disarray, so I decided to change my direction," he explains. At the time, he was also interning with the City of Gainesville and believed there was a need for a physical rehabilitation program for city employees injured on the job. His thought: if he could help the workers heal and return to their jobs as quickly as possible, the city would save more than enough money to justify his salary.

"I bought a book called Business Plans for Dummies and read it in a weekend," he says. "Then I wrote up a plan and pitched it to the risk manager, outlining the cost savings if they hired me fulltime. He loved the idea and pushed it through. And I've been there ever since."

He has spent the past decade in Gainesville taking care of injured firefighters, police and any worker hurt in the line of work, and has saved his money wisely and built a solid retirement plan. All the while, Porter has mulled ways to pay tribute to his grandfather: "He believed in education, and always said, 'Nobody can take that away from you.' " About a year ago, the unexpected death of a young cousin spurred him to take action. He asked a friend how to create a scholarship and was directed to USF's Director of Gift Planning, Marion Yongue. And everything quickly fell into place.

"You don't have to be rich to be able to do something like this," Porter says. "You just have to be able to cover it and I can do that comfortably, so I feel really good about it. I wanted my grandfather's name to live on."

Now, designed with an estate gift, it will.


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