From farming to philanthropy: How the blood of two generations runs red & blue

Smiling white man and woman walking in 1936This is a love story.

Love of the land. Love of people. Love of the University of Arizona.

Olen and Mildred Sharp loved the UA so much, they commuted from Mesa to Tucson for every home football and basketball game for more than 30 years.

And they loved UA students so much, they bequeathed $78,000 of their estate to the university for scholarships without telling anyone. Only when Mildred died at the age of 96 in August 2012, 11 years after Olen’s passing, did their children or UA find out about the gift.

For this farming couple who met in the Arizona desert, love was a way of life.

From the Midwest to the desert
Olen’s parents loved him so much, they moved from Ohio to Scottsdale for Olen’s health in 1919 when Olen was 4 years old. His father was in farming; he raised citrus and sweet potatoes. The family farm was only blocks away from what is now downtown Scottsdale.

Mildred’s aunt and uncle loved her so much, they practically adopted her and brought her from Michigan to Tucson in 1927 when she was 12 years old. Mildred grew up in Tucson, attended Tucson High School and graduated from the UA with a BA in history in 1939.

Love blooms on the UA campus
When Olen reached college age, he decided to leave Scottsdale and attend the UA. There he met the love of his life, Mildred. Olen studied electrical engineering at UA for nearly three years, until his dad and brothers persuaded him to go home and help with the family farm. Out of love, he went.

Out of love, Mildred followed Olen to Scottsdale. They married and moved to Mesa, to which the farm had expanded. There the couple had three children: Floyd, Martha and Bruce.

“My parents were such devoted UA fans,” says Bruce, “all three of us kids went to college in Tucson. There was never a question about what university we would go to. Many of our cousins and in-laws went to the UA, too.” Then Bruce adds with a sly smile, “I had an uncle who was an ASU fan. He was the black sheep of the family.”

'And then there was me....'
In fact, there was only one university in Arizona for quite a while after Olen and Mildred moved to the state. Bruce remembers when he was in sixth grade, in the 1950s, there was a debate going on in Arizona about whether to change the name of what was then “Arizona State College” to “Arizona State University.”

“The teacher in our class was teaching us about the political process,” says Bruce, “so all of us 6th-graders had to debate the issue and then vote on whether the school should be given the title ‘Arizona State University.’ Out of a class of 30 kids, 29 voted ‘yes.’ And then there was me.”

“Also,” continues Bruce, “ASU used to be called ‘Tempe Normal School.’ We used to laugh about that.”

The UA tradition continues
Olen and Mildred’s son Floyd took a degree in horticulture from the UA in 1963. Their daughter, Martha, graduated from the UA College of Nursing in 1965 in the fourth class of nursing students. Bruce earned his BS in pharmacy from the UA College of Pharmacy in 1970.

“I did not have a scholarship when I started at COP,” says Bruce, who, with his wife, Karen, now owns The Medicine Shoppe pharmacy in Ventura, Calif. “I think that’s one reason my parents wanted to help future students by donating some of their estate to scholarships.

“They designated $26,000 each to the College of Medicine, the College of Nursing and the College of Pharmacy. The nursing and pharmacy gifts were because my sister and I went to those schools. I think my parents donated to the College of Medicine because I had an aunt, my father’s sister, who was treated there for breast cancer.”

Sharing the love
The Sharps did not come from wealthy families, nor did they earn riches from farming.

“They were children of the Depression,” says Bruce. “They were frugal. They made good investments. They handled money wisely.”

Olen and Mildred made such wise financial decisions, in fact, that they were able to establish an endowed scholarship at the College of Pharmacy. This means their names and legacy will live in perpetuity.

Because of his parents’ generosity, Bruce is now considering making a gift every year to add to his parents’ COP scholarship.

As his parents did before him, this College of Pharmacy graduate and die-hard UA fan believes in sharing the love.


Meet Bruce Sharp

Bruce Sharp graduated from the UA College of Pharmacy in 1970. He was interested in pharmacology and pharmacy from an early age. And in the 1960s, the UA had the only pharmacy school in Arizona.

After graduating with his BS in pharmacy, Sharp needed to complete an internship to apply for a pharmacy license. He happened to see a letter posted on a COP bulletin board about a hospital pharmacy in Ventura, Calif., that was looking for two interns who had no experience.

“I was qualified,” laughs Sharp. “Typically interns went to Walgreens or other local stores and did whatever the pharmacist told them to do. This pharmacist at the hospital in Ventura wanted to make the experience more valuable for kids. He wanted to expose them to pharmacy in many areas: surgery, radiology, hospital pharmacy, etc. I applied and was hired, along with a kid from Wisconsin. I spent a year there. It was a wonderful experience. That pharmacist in Ventura was trying early on to show that pharmacists could do more than just count pills.”

While he was working at the hospital in Ventura, Sharp met his future wife, Karen. Shortly after they married, Sharp got a call from a professor at the UA COP, Hank Winship. The UA College of Medicine and Medical Center were just getting started, and Winship thought Sharp could be valuable to the new enterprises because of his hospital experience. Sharp agreed and he and Karen moved to Tucson. 

After about three years, Karen became homesick for Southern California. The couple moved back to Ventura and Sharp worked in a hospital there for nine years. Then an opportunity came up to work for a man who owned a pharmacy.

“He had a game plan all along,” says Sharp. “He wanted to retire and play bridge full time. He was looking for someone who would buy the pharmacy from him, but he didn’t tell me that when he hired me.”

The bridge-playing pharmacist’s plan worked. Sharp bought the pharmacy, which is now The Medicine Shoppe, in 1984.

Even from Ventura, this long-time UA fanatic finds ways to keep up with his alma mater. He still visits the university and keeps up with sports stories and campus communications. And when the UA men’s basketball team played in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament in Los Angeles in March 2013, Sharp was one of the first in line to get tickets.


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