Gary Albrecht, local philanthropist, touched the lives of many
Gary Albrecht was an excellent listener.
That was the first thing Aiken Rotary member Betty Ryberg thought when Albrecht sat next to her at a Rotary meeting four years ago and asked her about a scholarship fund for local students.
“I actually didn’t realize that he was a generous philanthropic person,” Ryberg said. “He was just sitting next to me, and I went on and on about this scholarship which I was just so passionate about.”
Ryberg thought she was only sharing her enthusiasm with an interested audience. Then Albrecht, a local philanthropist known for his quiet demeanor and enormous generosity, contacted her and offered a $10,000 donation to the scholarship fund, which benefits local students seeking to attend college, regardless of their area of study.
Later, Ryberg would learn just how deep Albrecht’s generosity was when he invited her to lunch and offered to include her in his trust, which ensured $1.2 million would be donated to fund the scholarship for 10 students per year over the next 25 years.
“I sat there at lunch, and I just wept,” Ryberg said. “I reached across the table and put my hands on his hands and said, ‘You and I both know that, long after we are no longer in Aiken, these children are going to know you.’ I would never venture to say a bigger impact could have been made.”
Two of the students Albrecht sent to college through the scholarship are twin sisters Q’May and Q’Ladrin Qourters, the current Vice President and President of the USC Aiken student body.
“It was honestly a huge surprise,” Q’May said. “I was actually at track practice when I received the announcement, and I honestly was like, screaming. I wanted to make sure everyone knew I wasn’t hurt. It was such a joy to know that me and my sister both got it. It was awesome.”
The sisters said Albrecht’s scholarship was a “blessing” on their family, and they were touched when they learned how many students he’d helped.
“That is such a generous offer for a person to give back to the community,” Q’Ladrin said. “It inspires me, when I obtain my career, to find some way to give back to my community such as he did ... it just shows the impact one person can make.”
The sisters, who are sophomores, are both studying biology with a premed concentration. Q’May plans to become a obstetrician-gynecologist, while Q’Ladrin is looking into neuroscience. Albrecht’s generosity made their dreams possible.
“Honestly, I owe everything to him,” Q’May said.
Students weren’t the only beneficiaries of Albrecht’s desire to better lives. The SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare on Willow Run Road was named in his honor.
“Gary was the man who provided the last of the capital campaign funds needed to trigger the construction of the new shelter,” said the center’s CEO Barbara Nelson in an email. “I told him the dollar amount and waited. He didn’t flinch. Then I heard the words ‘done’ and a nod, followed by ‘Now I am putting my trust in you to have this started by such and such date.’”
Nelson said Albrecht was “both tough and kind.” He could often be seen at the shelter delivering donuts to staff, playing with the animals and reading to shy dogs in their adoption rooms.
“Most of all, even though his name is on the building, he never gave you the impression that it was about him,” Nelson said. “It was about the animals and always will be.”
Although Albrecht changed the lives of many, his kindness and service are best remembered by his family; his wife of 60 years, Virginia, and his children; Joy, Dawn, Gayle, Anne and Karl.
“Our dad was an exceptional man,” said Joy Albrecht. “I cannot remember one time in my life (of) him ever talking about the good things he did for others in his life.”
Joy Albrecht said her father paid “every penny” for her friend’s college education when her friend’s family had little chance of affording the cost of tuition. She only found out about many of the things he did to help people years later.
“His love of helping people was only equal to his love of animals,” Joy Albrecht said. “I cant begin to recount all that my parents have done to help in so many ways. He never wanted thank you, attention or recognition ... This is just a tiny glimpse at the man he was.”
Joy said the thing her father loved “most in this world” was her mother, and they “adored each other to the very end.”
As for his passing, Joy said her father was at peace, even after receiving his cancer diagnosis. He never complained, she said – he simply looked back on his life, and said he couldn’t be happier with how he’d lived it.