URI engineering students to benefit from $160,000 gift from turf industry leader

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KINGSTON, R.I. – April 13, 2007 — He is a 10th generation farmer who was one of the first Rhode Island growers to take the advice of a University of Rhode Island professor and switch from cultivating potatoes to cultivating turf. Now H. Winfield Tucker and his wife Phyllis are giving some advice of their own.

“Education is the most important thing you can have, because nobody can take it away from you,” he said.

The Tuckers have backed up that advice with a $160,000 donation to URI to enhance the H. Winfield Tucker Jr. Engineering Scholarship Endowment to support undergraduate engineering students from South County. The gift nearly doubles the size of a scholarship endowment the Tuckers established in 1992 and added to in 2000.

“Church, hospital and university – they all have equal spots in our heart,” said Phyllis Tucker. “Since we’re getting older all the time, we wanted to make this contribution while we could.”

“If I hadn’t had the education at URI,” added her husband, “we wouldn’t be in a position to give these scholarships.”

Win Tucker earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from URI in 1943. He also recalled doing “a bit of wrestling,” then added quietly that, “with the war on, it was a very different place back then.” He went on to explain that his engineering and mathematics education enabled him to succeed as a farmer and businessman.

Upon graduation he received a job offer to work as a detail draftsman for Sikorsky Engineering, but the pay was so low he wouldn’t have been able to afford room and board away from home. So instead he stayed in the family business and built a Rhode Island agricultural enterprise.

As a potato dealer in the 1950s, he not only grew potatoes on the family farm but also bought potatoes from farms in a dozen other states and sold them to potato chip companies. He eventually acquired several potato farms in Slocum — a total of more than 500 acres of farmland — that he converted into turf fields in the 1970s.

“Professor Richard Skogley kept telling us ‘you should be planting grass, you should be planting grass,’” Tucker recalled. “So we finally took his advice, starting with just a few acres, and then kept adding more and more until we had no more potatoes.”

The family turf business, Sodco, is now run by the Tucker’s daughter, Linda, who earned a master’s degree in business administration from URI in 1972.

“The Tuckers are a legendary family here in South County, and we are so proud that they remain connected to the University of Rhode Island,” said Robert Clough, senior development officer for the URI College of Engineering. “Their recent contribution to grow their scholarship endowment is a wonderful sign of their continued commitment to their alma mater. We appreciate their tremendous loyalty and generosity.”

The Tucker’s gift is part of the URI “Making a Difference” campaign, which seeks $100 million to recruit and retain outstanding faculty, enhance the student-centered campus experience, provide undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships, and fund cutting-edge academic and research initiatives.