Growing up in central Pennsylvania, Thomas R. Rippon dreamed of attending a small liberal arts college in New England.
His dream came true when Colby offered a generous financial aid package that allowed him to come to Mayflower Hill, where he received a rigorous education that prepared him for a fulfilling life and career as an entrepreneur, business executive, civic leader, and philanthropist.
Grateful for his education and the opportunities it created, Rippon ’68 recently committed $1 million to financial aid through the Thomas R. Rippon Scholarship “so the College can continue to help people like me,” he said. “Colby gave me a full financial aid package, which I desperately needed. I have been carrying around a sense of gratitude for Colby that I was able to come from Hershey, Pa., all the way to Waterville, Maine. I got a great education, and it all started with financial aid.”
Vice President and Chief Institutional Advancement Officer Matt Proto thanked Rippon for his gift, and said such commitments help ensure Colby can continue to offer financial aid to deserving students. “Thom’s commitment to support students who need financial assistance to attend college is truly extraordinary. His story is inspiring, and we are extremely appreciative of his thoughtfulness and support,” Proto said.
Rippon came from a large family with limited resources for college. “I was the third of seven kids, and when it was time for college there was no money left for me. I was told I would have to get myself there,” he said.
Colby made that possible. A government major with an interest in foreign languages, Rippon was active in student affairs on campus and became president of the Student Government Association during his senior year. He ran track and played intramural hockey, a sport that he continues to play in his 70s.
Although many professors made impressions, a notable and influential educator was the late Albert A. Mavrinac, the first chair of the Government Department. Beyond a liberal arts education, Colby gave Rippon the confidence to explore his curiosities and pursue his interests in business, arts, and civic life. His four years at Colby changed how Rippon viewed the world and helped him plot his course in life, he said.
“I was greatly influenced at Colby by literature, the arts, the humanities, and civics, and have integrated such deeply into my life,” he said, noting that a favorite artist remains the painter Andrew Wyeth. He learned to appreciate the paintings of Wyeth during his time at Colby, and was drawn to the artist’s love of both Pennsylvania and Maine.
When Colby became stewards of Allen and Benner Islands in Maine’s Muscongus Bay, formerly owned by Andrew and Betsy Wyeth, Rippon was motivated to make a major financial gift. “I do it somewhat to honor Mr. Wyeth and family but more to honor Colby College, my greatest benefactor. The motivation is lifelong gratitude,” he said.
Decades of generosity and service
His decision to support outstanding students who qualify for financial assistance followed decades of generosity to the College in the form of financial gifts for specific initiatives and other kinds of support and service, including as a member of the Board of Visitors.
Rippon volunteered for military service and joined the U.S. Army after graduation, then enrolled at Columbia Law School upon his return to the States. After graduating from Columbia, he worked as a lawyer in Pittsburgh, but only briefly. Tapping into an entrepreneurial streak that ran in his family, he decided he would rather work for himself than for someone else. He got involved in the fast-growing fast-food industry and applied for his first McDonald’s franchise when still in his 20s.
Today, in partnership with one of his three sons, he is owner-operator of seven McDonald’s restaurants in four Pennsylvania counties.
In 1979, he opened a private business incubator that started and managed a series of enterprises in healthcare and information technology, two sectors that grew in the 1980s and 1990s. One of these enterprises was an early entrant into managed healthcare, specializing in pharmacy benefit management on behalf of employees and retirees of Fortune 200 companies.
Rippon is a cofounder and the board chairman emeritus of the Ronald McDonald House on the campus of the Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., which he helped establish in 1980 as a home-away-from home for the families of seriously ill or injured children. In addition, he is or has been a board member of several national, statewide, and regional civic and art organizations, including Preservation Pennsylvania; Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania, which he cofounded; the Pennsylvania Humanities Council; the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry; Pennsylvanians for Effective Government; and WVIA public broadcasting affiliate.
He is also a certified Pennsylvania Master Naturalist and has owned and operated a 90-acre farm since 1975. He planted 10,000 tree seedlings on his farm in 1976 to honor the nation as part of its bicentennial and to create diverse wildlife habitats.
“Everything I do and have done is all rooted in my education at Colby,” he said. “Colby really changed my life and my sense of self. I have lived a life committed to the arts and humanities in the broadest sense of those two nouns. It’s all about mind, body, and soul. The intellectuality of the Colby experience—being open-minded and soulful about fellow citizens—led me to being involved in my community and living my life as I have.”
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