John Tobin ’78 was used to finding creative ways to finance his education before ever setting foot on the St. Norbert College campus. He and his four siblings already were paying their own way by sophomore year at their Catholic high school.
“The deal my parents made was they would pay for our freshman year, and we would have to pay for the remaining three years of high school tuition and any college,” Tobin recalls. “I worked at Burger King for a couple of years, a hobby shop that sold items such as model car kits, and ad hoc jobs such as helping out on landscaping crews.”
Tobin knew if he wanted to join a group of his high-school friends at St. Norbert, he would need to apply the same creative financing strategies to make his goal a reality. With no grant options available, student employment, part-time jobs and summer work would have to be his ticket.
Introduction to life as a campus employee began almost immediately. Tobin landed a job at the Knight Klub, a bar and grill in the lower level of the Sensenbrenner Union. (These were the days of Wisconsin’s 18-year-old legal drinking age.)
“I remember being put to work the second or third day on campus, because they were having Dime Day where beers were just a dime,” he says. “We had a food stand outside the Union. While everybody else was enjoying Dime Day, I had to work. But it was a great way to meet people.
“I knew (funding college) was going to be on me. I didn’t get a scholarship per se, but I was able to get that job at the Knight Klub, where I cooked in the grill area and waited on people at the bar. That was my job for two years to supplement student loans and my other earnings to pay for college.”
Tobin then moved to the campus print shop, where he produced signs for the college. He also worked at the Irish Pub just off campus, and made time to participate in track Campaign Goal: To Create Opportunity Providing Financial Aid for Students and field, where he was a three-time letterman.
Work didn’t end with the completion of the academic year. A family friend secured him a job in maintenance at a tool and die factory in Illinois during the summers and over holiday breaks. Sharing off-campus apartments with other students his final two years reduced housing expenses to as little as $25 per month.
“I learned a mechanical aptitude at the factory, because we had to trouble-shoot the punch press equipment,” he says. “And out of survival, I learned how to do my own car repairs and cooked for myself.”
Understanding the challenges of financing college, Tobin has given to the St. Norbert Fund since shortly after graduation. His first donations were a modest $20 as he worked to pay off student loans of almost $100 per month. Now senior director of customer development for iconic toy maker Lego Systems, Inc., he continues to support the fund annually, making a difference for today’s students as they complete their higher education journeys.
“I know how hard it was for me to work and get through school,” Tobin says. “I couldn’t have done it without getting those part-time jobs and student loans. Donating is a nice way to give back and help somebody else. I knew $20 wouldn’t go a long way back then, but I was able to increase my giving as time went by.”