The University sparked their relationship — and their careers.
Now they’re the ones helping students graduate.
A shared beginning
Russ and Sue’s story began their sophomore year at West Chester University. Both were enrolled in the same education course in the Old Main building. Every day, Sue would leave her books on the seat beside her, blocking Russ from sitting next to her — until one day, she didn’t. Two years later, they were married.
Russ had come to WCU to play football, then switched to baseball and tennis. Sue had vowed to attend the University since she was a child admiring the campus’s canopy of sycamore trees on the way to her aunt’s house. Now they were brought together in their pursuit of education — and their shared desire to become teachers themselves.
Living together in a small apartment on West Miner Street, Susan earned her bachelor’s degree in education, while Russ graduated with his bachelor’s degree, and later his master’s degree, in health and physical education. Both credit their professors for helping them get a strong start to life after college.
“All my professors were really, really good,” Russ says. “They were some of the most creative people I’ve ever met, and they gave me a great background for being successful in education.”
Pursuing their passions
After graduating in 1971, Russ and Sue stayed near the University campus as they began teaching. Russ says, “The University gave us the opportunity to be educators in the area.”
Just one district over from West Chester, Russ taught secondary education for 34 years at what are now Scott Middle School and South Brandywine Middle School. He also coached tennis at Coatesville High School, eventually returning to WCU to lead the tennis team there as well.
Sue taught in West Chester more than 31 years, primarily working with second graders. She says she often applied the lessons and approaches she picked up at the University. “I had professors who were so creative and on target with what kids really like,” Sue says. “There was no pie in the sky talk — it was all usable and interesting in my own classrooms.”
Susan K. Dietrick ’71 and Russell J. Tapper ’71, M’78
West Chester University Foundation donors since 1975, most recently to the Fund to Finish
“West Chester University was everything to us. We wouldn’t be where we are today without our time there, so giving back is part of the deal. The University gave us such an opportunity to be successful – why not offer more possibilities for other people to be successful, too?” – Russell J. Tapper
“In this world, you don’t often get such an unexpected windfall that impacts your entire college career,” Sue says. “I think it would make students feel like they won the lottery.”
A rhythm of giving
Russ and Sue began contributing to the West Chester University Foundation in 1975, just four years after they graduated. Their first donation was a gift of $5. “That was when we only had a little bit of extra pocket money,” Sue says.
The couple has continued to make contributions in the years since, often to funds that speak to their own interests and fond memories. They’ve supported the Purple & Gold Fund, the University’s baseball fund, the Rams Athletic Association Scholarship Endowment, the College of Health Sciences Dean’s Fund, and athletic assistance funds for baseball, tennis, and football, among others.
This year, they chose to donate to the Fund to Finish — a flexible emergency aid for students in situations where the cost of single course might prevent them from graduating. These just-in-time awards often support students facing challenges like homelessness and food insecurity. “In this world, you don’t often get such an unexpected windfall that impacts your entire college career,” Sue says. “I think it would make students feel like they won the lottery.”
Today, Russ and Sue live in Winter Park, Florida, where they moved after 42 years of living fewer than two miles from the WCU campus. There, they continually look forward to finding ways to support the University every year. “I think it’s wonderful to hear of new programs and have a choice of where your money should go,” Russ says. “We have very positive memories of the University, and this is the perfect opportunity to help somebody and pay it forward.”