Kenneth, Rebecca, and Samantha White – Passion in The Pride


Ken ’87 and Rebecca ’87 White are two of the most passionate people on the planet – passionate about their family, their alma mater, and their business.

The Whites, along with their daughter, Samantha ’14, recently established the White Family Endowed Scholarship, which is a five-year commitment (it will be fully funded in 2018).  It will be awarded on an annual basis with first preference given to students majoring in social work, and second preference to students majoring in any of the humanities. Creating the scholarship was important to the Whites because it was a tangible way to give back to Saint Leo and support future students.

Having graduated from Saint Leo nearly 30 years ago, the Whites believe that Saint Leo prepared them for the success they have attained. Ken is a retired PGA golf professional and general manager of Santa Maria Country Club in California. Rebecca has experience in the food and beverage industry and enjoys managing a diverse staff. Today, the Whites own and operate Howard’s Restaurant, a bustling eating establishment in Englewood, FL (Sarasota County).

Proud of Their Alma Mater

The Whites met at Saint Leo in the fall of 1983 when both enrolled as incoming freshmen. They both desired to be in a warmer climate (both are New England natives) at an institution that offered small class sizes and individual attention. 

“We shared freshman math class and started talking at a freshman dance,” said Ken. “Both of us were business majors, and we immersed ourselves in numerous activities such as Greek life [Ken joined Kappa Theta fraternity and Rebecca joined Alpha Omicron Pi], intramural sports, and the Ambassador Program. Rebecca also ran for class office. We had a lot in common and dated all through college.” 

“Ken and I are very proud of the many accomplishments of Saint Leo University,” said Rebecca. “It has flourished where many private colleges and universities have failed. We believe in Saint Leo’s student-centered mission. [Saint Leo wants] all students to believe in themselves and reach their God-given potential. That is something every parent wants for their child.” 

Fond Saint Leo Memories 

Both Ken and Rebecca have fond memories of their educational and social experiences at Saint Leo. Ken lived in Saint Edward Hall all four years and speaks highly of his college experience and the friends that he made, especially in his fraternity, of which he was president his senior year.

Greek life was a big part of my college experience,” he said. “Chuck Fisk [former economics professor] was my favorite instructor. He was an integral part of the business program at Saint Leo. My biggest memory was when my dad died during my sophomore year and my fraternity held a service at the Grotto. That meant a lot to me personally and was the primary reason I converted to Catholicism.” 

Rebecca lived all four years in Marmion Hall and still stays in contact with her two best friends from her college days, both of whom live in Florida. They plan to reunite at an alumni event in February. 

“I joined the charter class of a national sorority,” she remarked. “My favorite teacher was Professor Maura Snyder, a member of the English faculty. I took two of her English classes. She was a legend, and I’ll never forget her enthusiasm, especially for Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson. I don’t think anyone who took her class could ever forget her.” 

Finding the Right Fit 

When it came time for Samantha to choose a college, Saint Leo wasn’t originally on her radar. During her junior year of high school, Samantha decided she wanted to attend a small, private university in Florida. During the week of her Spring Break, she and her mom went exploring colleges in the Sunshine State. They narrowed it down to four schools – Rollins, Flagler, Eckerd, and Stetson.

After five days of touring, Samantha admitted to her mom that she still had not found one that seemed like the right fit. Rebecca asked if she would be open to visiting her and her husband’s alma mater, Saint Leo University. 

Samantha was very impressed with Saint Leo. She said her visit stood out because of the openness of the faculty and students, and she and her mother left feeling that all of their questions were answered. 

During her campus visit, she was also able to speak with the department chair for undergraduate education and attended a class where she could ask questions of education major upperclassmen. “It was a very open environment and very helpful for Sammy in making her decision,” recalled Rebecca. 

In addition, she was able to talk to a student-athlete in the class to find out about how hard it was to juggle academics and a sport since she was interested in playing tennis at college.  

Being on the tennis team pushed her to new limits both physically and mentally. “I learned a lot about time management and had to discipline myself in order to juggle my responsibilities,” said Samantha. “It was important for me to be on the Dean’s List and help my team achieve academic honors as well as improving our tennis standings.”

Samantha originally enrolled as an education major but switched to social work during her sophomore year thanks to a positive encounter she had in her SLU 101 First Year Experience course taught by Dr. Veronika Ospina-Kammerer (aka Dr. VOK), associate professor of social work. “Ken and I knew nothing about social work, but we met with Dr. VOK and we could see how excited Sam was about the field. [Dr. VOK] quickly made some schedule changes at the end of Sammy’s sophomore year so she could still complete her degree in four years,” said Rebecca. 

Many students struggle at universities today because they are not sure if they are in the right field and no one is there to guide them. “We were so pleased that Saint Leo gives students individual attention and guidance so they can find a field that is a good fit,” said Ken. 

Gaining “Real World” Experience 

Samantha’s confidence grew and her grades improved (B’s to A’s). She served as an officer in the Social Work Club and in the Theta Phi Alpha sorority during her junior and senior years. Dr. VOK assisted her in landing a paid internship at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay sponsored by Bank of America. Later, with encouragement from Dr. VOK, Samantha was accepted into a one-year, accelerated master’s program at the University of Central Florida where she graduated in May. Samantha is currently a clinical social worker for Fresenius Medical Clinic in Merritt Island, FL. She has also started the process to become a licensed clinical social worker. 

Saint Leo prepared Samantha for her professional career in several ways. She gained invaluable professional experience in her chosen field through two internships her junior and senior years. She worked for the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay as a critical needs intern and with Gulfside Hospice where she shadowed a social worker for 32 hours a week. “After experiencing the medical field, I gravitated toward working with the elderly,” stated Samantha. “I love my work connecting with patients and their families to bring them through the impact associated with kidney disease.”

Not only did her sorority and social work club experience provide her with many wonderful friendships, but she also gained business ethics experience. “Every Friday, I apply the ‘Roberts Rules of Order’ procedure I learned at school in my interdisciplinary meeting with doctors and medical staff,” commented Samantha. 

A Place for Parents 

In 2010, as Saint Leo alumni and parents of a SLU student, Ken and Rebecca were approached about serving on the newly formed Parent Advisory Council. The purpose of the council is to develop and nurture relationships between and among parents, alumni students, and friends of Saint Leo through events, volunteer opportunities, and philanthropic support. 

Through various communication vehicles, the council helps parents keep abreast of the new academic disciplines and initiatives occurring within the curriculum and with the construction and facility improvements around University Campus. The Whites were pleased to serve on the council and offer input to the university.

They also appreciated that Saint Leo has been on the cutting edge in tackling some of the challenges students and families face when adjusting from living at home to living away at college. “Saint Leo recognized there was an opportunity to guide students and parents with making the transition easier,” said Rebecca. “They also realized that the Saint Leo core values are something missing in our society today and most students feel better about themselves when they put others first.”

The administrators at Saint Leo did their homework and addressed many current issues. “They gave mom and dad the tools to help students help themselves,” commented Ken. “It’s very empowering to solve your own problems.” 

It’s More Than a Motto 

Saint Leo’s motto is “You will love the person you become here.” Ken and Rebecca have witnessed that first-hand, both in their own lives and in their daughter’s. “From our collective, invaluable experiences at Saint Leo University, we have been successful in our business, and our daughter has reached a level of self-esteem in her profession.” They have channeled part of their passion into supporting their alma mater with the establishment of the White Family Endowed Scholarship. Through their shining example, they hopefully will encourage other Saint Leo University alumni to do the same. 

Left: Graduation (1987) | Right: Samantha's Graduation (2014)
Left to right: Generations of graduations from Saint Leo – Ken and Rebecca's (1987); Daughter Samantha's (2014)

For more information about making a donation to Saint Leo University, visit the Access to Excellence page or call (352) 588-8483.


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