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winter 2018
Clardy Kids

'Clardy kids' start scholarship

Fund honors 'Mom and Dad'

They call themselves “Clardy kids” and “Clardy siblings,” but they are not related at all – at least not by blood. They’re connected by something much stronger – pure love. 

The “kids” are Wofford College alumni and current students who have discovered more than the touted “family” feel of the Wofford experience. They’ve discovered what it means to be taken under the wings and into the family of Beth Y. Clardy, assistant to Roberta Bigger ’81, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, and Beth’s husband, Michael. The Clardys are “Mom and Dad.”

“We all enjoyed study breaks with the Clardys during finals weeks or the countless campus-wide events where you were just as likely to bump into the Clardys as you were a friend from down the hall,” says Austin Fitch ’09 of Charlotte, N.C., “but even more important were the times when they were there to just sit and talk after a tough week. Whether it was just popping into Student Affairs for a hug or swinging by their house to just decompress, they offered love and support unconditionally to each and every one of us. Equally meaningful has been the continued support shown us as we’ve started our own families and gone on to numerous successes after Wofford.”

Fitch and his wife, Leah Gaylord Fitch ’08, recently led the effort to create the Clardy Family Endowed Scholarship Fund, which eventually will provide financial assistance to a worthy Wofford student. They wouldn’t have been able to pull it off without the help and support of other “Clardy kids.”

The idea came to the Fitches in early 2017 after having lunch with the Clardys in Spartanburg, something many of the kids do when they’re in town. “A number of us had tossed around ideas of how to recognize them in the past, but had never really decided on anything formal,” Austin says. Shortly after the lunch, while the Fitches vacationed at the beach with other families that included some “Clardy kids,” the idea began to gel. “They all agreed it was definitely worth pursuing.”

Working with Calhoun Kennedy ’89, associate vice president and executive director for development in the Office of Advancement, the Clardy Family Endowed Scholarship Fund was established, taking advantage of the Trustee Matching Fund to double the donations to the new scholarship. “By mid-year, we had commitments from enough folks to make it a reality, and we began sending out pledge forms,” Austin says.

On Jan. 6, 2018, more than 30 people gathered at the home of Leigh Ann Miller ’13 in Spartanburg , waiting to surprise the Clardys, who thought they were there for a quiet dinner. Miller, director of admission marketing for the Office of Admission, says the party was open to everyone, not only those who contributed to the scholarship fund. “We wanted it to be a reunion and not just about the money. The scholarship is a great opportunity for us to give back to the Clardys, who have given so much to us during our time at Wofford and beyond. It took a year of planning and raising money, but we kept it a secret (from the couple) the entire time, which was pretty darn hard to do on this campus. Our hope is that this scholarship will help another student to come to Wofford and develop relationships just as strong and impactful as the relationships we have found in ‘Ms. Beth,’ ‘Mr. Michael’ and each other.”

“It’s been beyond a blessing for us to have these relationships with these students, especially since we never had any children of our own,” says Michael Clardy, who many of “the kids” call “Pops.” “It’s just been one of the biggest blessings of our lives.”

“We are so humbled by the alumni doing this for us,” Beth adds, noting that the couple was, indeed, surprised by the whole thing. “It’s just very special to us.”

The Clardys began building the clan from the first day Beth started work for the Office of Advancement at Wofford 16 years ago. “Some of them became our kids from Day 1 – their first day at Wofford – and now we have ‘grandchildren,’ their children, in our family,” Michael says, recalling that it’s just the couple’s way of carrying on the Wofford reputation of being a community, a family.

It just started out with the Clardys sensing that students sometimes needed a break – from studying or maybe the stress of final exams, so they would treat a few to dinner off campus. Such outings grew into close friendships, and as the years went by and students graduated, then more were joining the clan. Because classes and distance often conflicted with being home when their own families decorated the Christmas tree, the Clardys started a tradition of inviting the students to their house for the ritual, which included Michael being the chef. “I don’t decorate, but I cook,” he says.

Several of the students who were part of the first group of “Clardy Kids” still argue about who was the first, and many playfully vie to be called “the favorite.” “It’s like a sibling rivalry,” Michael says. “We get plenty of emails from them, all signed ‘Your Favorite.’” The graduating seniors even discuss among themselves who will “replace” them when they go, joking that they have “a reputation to uphold.” 

“It’s nothing to get Christmas cards, wedding invitations and baby shower invitations all the time,” Beth adds, noting that right now, she has three wedding invitations on the front of her refrigerator. “They all keep in touch, and I always know where they are.” It may be a text or a call or an email once a day, once a week or once a month – or maybe even less often – but she knows where they are.

“We have parents all the time tell us how much we have meant to their children while they were at Wofford, but I have to tell them that we get much more out of it than their children ever could,” Michael says. “It’s just so special.”

While the Clardys may know where their kids are all the time, contacting other “Clardy kids” to participate in the scholarship fund is where “things got interesting,” Austin says. He and Leah had a good idea of who their “Clardy siblings” were around their own age group, but didn’t have a definitive list that included alumni from back when Beth started working at Wofford. They did what any other millennial would do – they turned to social media, specifically Facebook. “We literally combed through thousands of pictures from the Clardys’ Facebook profile, jotting down names that we thought should be included or folks who were in pictures with captions that identified them as Clardy kids,” Austin says. “Needless to say, this took some time!”

Cobbling together that list – “a good start” – they sent it out to other “Clardy kids” to cross-check and see who needed to be added. Then, they reached out to that less-than-definitive list to gauge their interest in endowing a scholarship. “Not surprisingly, the feedback was entirely positive and responses came flooding in.” It was only later – at the scholarship reveal party – that they discovered that Beth had kept a list of all the “Clardy kids” on her computer in the Student Affairs office. “If only we had known this and could have somehow gotten it without her knowing, we could have saved hours,” Austin jokes.

After all of that digging, they were able to track down “siblings” back to those who had graduated in 2007. “Probably the coolest thing, in my opinion, is that we had at least one ‘Clardy kid’ from each graduating class from 2007 until the present contribute to the scholarship,” he adds. “If that doesn’t show just how much of a lasting impact they’ve had then I don’t know what does.”

Austin recalls that coming to Wofford, for many students, meant being far from home, from family and friends, and truly “out on our own, in many respects, for the first time. … Looking back at our time on campus, Leah and I both say that our experience at Wofford really did feel like home because we were lucky enough to be a part of the Clardy family. While we probably didn’t realize it at the time, having a family there on campus made the close-knit community that is Wofford College feel even more like home.”


By Laura Hendrix Corbin