Helping to put a guy like Drew Hansen through school is a privilege to Will Snyder. Commuting 626 miles for home football games? That's a matter of honor and duty. He wouldn't dream of staying home to watch the Utes on TV no matter how treacherous the conditions on I-15.
One might expect such allegiance from a jet-setting high-roller with time and money to burn on collegiate loyalty. But that doesn't describe Snyder. He's a pickup-driving realtor who never even attended the University of Utah. But he has a rich appreciation for the U, nonetheless. Advancing the school's image so that fans appreciate the University no matter the score is his favorite pastime.
Since making his home five years ago in St. George, Snyder has been exploring ways to link his southwestern corner of the state back to the University of Utah. One thing Utah's second-fastest growing county surely is capable of giving, he figured, is a little money for student scholarships. So he began soliciting Crimson Club donations from friends and strangersmost of them alumni who make Utah's Dixie their home. Pretty soon, an athletics booster group known as "Crimson Club Outreach Chapter No.1" began taking shape.
"We need a forum to ballyhoo the University of Utah's accomplish-ments," Snyder says, pondering for a minute how best to publicize advancements in medical research that might be of interest to St. George's snowbirds. "There ought to be a way of giving the University more accolades for all it does for this state," he declares.
Outside the Wasatch Front, the U is largely an unknown entity, one of Snyder's chapter recruits explains. "Unless you live in southern Utah, you don't realize the U doesn't always carry a good name. Nine out of 10 people bleed Cougar blue, and they sometimes see the University as a big brother that doesn't care about us very much," observes Evan Vickers BS'72, whom Snyder persuaded to start a branch chapter of the Crimson Club in Cedar City.
Though he admits a particular affinity for athletics, Snyder is well-versed in the many roles that a flagship institution with its performing arts and top-notch law and medical schools plays. He keeps tabs on Utah alumni who have distinguished themselves professionally while he does the "pick and shovel work" required to build a foundation for University support.
"He's one of those guys who is always looking for an opportunity to meet people and find out what they do and where they're from, just because he's interested," remarks Vickers.
Snyder is not only responsible for the first outlying chapter and its full slate of officers, but organizing a top-rate, sold-out Ute celebrity golf extravaganza as well. "We bring Chris Hill MED'72 PhD'82, and Coach Mac down here, and people love it," he says, smiling like a giddy new graduate. Not only do participants have an opportunity to shoot a round of golf with notable former Utah players like Crimson Club Hall of Famer Clarence "Fred" Gehrke ex'39, Snyder keeps the cost down and the perks plentiful. A continental breakfast, free soft drinks delivered via cart to parched players, a dinner banquet, and 18 holes at Johnny Miller's Entrada Golf Course at Snow Canyon for 45 bucks? No wonder the May event attracts more than 150 golfers. Snyder works to package a deal for the U that sounds almost too good to be true.
"When Will's in action, he's kind of like a freight train. You've either got to get on and sit down beside him or get run over. We've been really impressed with what we've been able to do in southern Utah because of him," Vickers compliments.
Last fall Outreach Chapter No. 1 sponsored another event in St. Georgethis time a dinner-reception with Utah Head Football Coach Ron McBride and basketball coaches Donny Daniels and Elaine Elliott. Again, Snyder worked like a dust devil in the desert to whip up organizers and community participants.
"I have a lot of associations with high school students, and for them, an appearance by these coaches from Utah makes a big difference. All of a sudden you see more U of U hats around the community, and students start talking about applying to the U or transferring there after going to Dixie or SUU," says Vickers, who has helped arrange externships for Utah College of Pharmacy students.
The relatively low ratio of Utah to BYU fans in southern Utah, Vickers adds, gives supporters that much more credence to join booster organizations.
Snyder grew up attending games in Salt Lake City. He worked as a marketing manager with Mountain Bell in Salt Lake City and New Jersey before taking up his new career in St. George. Since then, raising the level of esteem for the U "south of the Point of the Mountain" has been constantly on his mind. He says, "Utah isn't a professor, or athletics, or a degree. It's a life; it's all these things that together affect us all. Having a university of that calibre in our state should give us all pride, expand our awareness, and make us feel a part of it." Snyder digresses, about working as a cabbie and meeting a young woman from Baltimore who had earned a dance scholarship to Utah. "Why in the world did you want to come all the way to Utah?" he asked, and she explained that the U is renowned in the dance world for having one of the best programs of any U.S. college or university.
"We're all of those things. We're not just the flashing U on the hill, or the new Marriott Library. The University is simply something none of us should take for granted," Snyder explains. But then again, he's full of optimistic "Snyderies." No wonder fans in Dixie can't resist his appeal.
Anne Palmer Peterson is editor of Continuum Magazine.