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Air and water

It is a long drive to Charleston, South Carolina.  I always tend to think of it being northeast of Auburn.   In reality, it almost due east, just a few degrees to the north.  It is significantly south of Atlanta.  There is no easy way to get from here to there unless your private plane is waiting at the airport.

Mary Lou and I just made the journey for the first time in probably a decade.  I am certain that I had never taken the route that WAZE directed.   I knew I was in the middle of nowhere when I had to turn at Bull Swamp Baptist Church onto Caw-Caw Road.  Nevertheless, as a longtime lover of rural roads, I enjoyed the journey of almost 400 miles.

Upon our arrival, we immediately began partaking of one of Charleston’s greatest assets, their incredible food scene.  More than one restaurant during our visit offered some of the best grits I have ever eaten in my life and that is saying a lot.  World class seafood, creative low-country cuisine, and innovative southern cooking make this a worthy destination for those in search of their next great food experience.

The primary reason for our visit was to attend the 29th IQLA Awards.  The International Quality of Life Awards is presented by the Auburn University College of Human Sciences but is supported by the larger university community.  It honors people and partnerships that have made a significant contribution to the well-being of our community, both locally and around the world.   

We have been able to attend the last three black tie events, which were in New York City, Nashville, TN and this year in Charleston, SC.  It is a great opportunity to visit with friends, make new contacts, and celebrate the accomplishments of those we honor.

Ambrose Gaines IV received the individual Quality of Life Award.  You probably would know him best by his universally recognized name of “Rowdy” Gaines.  Rowdy was honored as not only an Olympic Champion but also as a philanthropist who has worked for many years to save the lives of children by encouraging swim lessons to prevent childhood drownings.  

Ten children a day drown in tragic accidents across America.  Many, if not most, could have been prevented by simply teaching a child how to swim.  That may seem like an easy task in the deep south, but many children and their parents never learn to swim, though they are constantly exposed to pools, lakes, and rivers.

Rowdy has used his voice as a well-known broadcaster on the NBC Olympic broadcast team to facilitate water safety amongst children.  His philanthropic contributions have saved countless lives and continue to raise the awareness of this preventable tragedy.

Delta Airlines was recognized for its role as a Global Community Leader.  My wife and I have flown over two million miles on Delta Airlines and it has long been our carrier of choice.   However, I was not aware of all its many philanthropic contributions, particularly in support of childhood cancer research.  

Dean Crowe, CEO of Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research, spoke movingly about Delta’s support and the impact it has had in supporting children’s cancer research.  It was a great testimony to the role that global companies can play by using their considerable resources to make the world better. 

I have flown around the world on Delta, yet never knew about this part of their charitable efforts.  Delta has a significant partnership with Auburn University as part of its flight training program, but they have an even greater partnership in working to change the lives and opportunities of children with cancer.

While hundreds in attendance enjoyed the festive atmosphere and camaraderie of joining together in the great city of Charleston, it was even greater to celebrate and recognize the life changing contributions of Rowdy Gaines and Delta Airlines.

One began swimming at the age of 17 only to become an Olympic Champion.  The other began flying as a small crop-dusting company only to become one of the world’s largest airlines.  One made their mark in the water and the other in the air.   They were each recognized for their efforts to make the quality of life better for everyone else.  

A worthy goal for us all.  


Dan Ponder can be reached at

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