Pedaling the wheels of generosity
By Aaron Cooper
Charles Lafkas (BS ’94) used to marvel at how much attention he got when he would wear a cycling jersey from his father’s alma mater, a large, well-known US university. Charles, a graduate of Loyola University Chicago and an avid bicyclist, thought it would be cool to design a Loyola version in order to showcase the school in a unique and positive way.
“I was introduced to a local designer, Diana Puppin of dp Design, who’s also a bicyclist in addition to operating her marketing and design business.” says Charles. “This was the first time we worked on a project together. With Loyola’s blessing to commence the project, followed by the University’s continued input and final approval, we created the product pictured here.”
The result was a hit and also kept as a secret from Charles’s father (pictured below with Charles), until a planned vacation. The two generations of Lafkas had scheduled a week-long bicycle ride in Oregon in September 2013, with the litmus test being what Loyola’s brand recognition would be so far outside of Chicago. During the trip, Charles presented his father with the new jersey, and his father was impressed and thrilled to wear it.
“Additionally, we were with another friend in Oregon, who I gave a jersey to also. About half a mile out of our camp on the morning that all three of us chose to wear our new jerseys, someone yelled to my father, ‘Hey, Jesuit!,’ rode up to us, and named all the members of the Loyola championship basketball team from 1963,” says Charles. “Each of us that day received half a dozen comments, all positive, from people coming up to us and saying things like, ‘Hey, my daughter attends Loyola!’ It was amazing to see that brand recognition among 2,000 other riders who had traveled to eastern Oregon, some from different parts of the world.”
Charles does not sell the jerseys and has only given them away. “This is just another way I can help promote the University,” says Charles.
Charles, based in Cincinnati, is a senior clinical project manager in drug development, an industry that manages drug trials and studies for pharmaceutical companies as they’re working toward FDA approval. His company is hired to ensure drug trials are done ethically and objectively, with the protection of the participants in these clinical trials being his foremost goal.
As Charles became more involved with Loyola and agreed to serve on the College of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board, a Loyola development officer reached out to him and asked if he’d be open to a substantial donation to his alma mater. Turns out he was very receptive to the idea.
Charles endowed a scholarship as part of Loyola’s Access to Excellence: The Campaign for Scholarships. The Charles S. Lafkas Scholarship Fund provides financial assistance to one or more students enrolled at the College of Arts and Sciences. Preference is given to students who declare biology, chemistry, and/or physics as a major course of study and who demonstrate academic merit.
“I’m a big advocate of giving back,” says Charles. “I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I've become financially successful enough that I can give back in this way. And it’s not just about giving back financially. Sometimes that means giving back of our time, as I try to do with my involvement on the CAS board or merely doing something like donating blood on a regular basis.”
Meanwhile, Charles finds his way onto a bicycle every chance he can. Recently, while wearing his Loyola jersey, he was riding around Cincinnati. He stopped at a coffee shop on the way home toward the end of his ride, and he saw a young couple wearing Cubs hats. “One of them came up to me and asked if I went to Loyola,” says Charles. “I said yes, and he introduced himself as a 2003 grad. Encounters like that have been a lot of fun and help show the pride in the Loyola University Chicago brand.”