While attending a wedding in June 2017, the last thing Susan Bassett, director of intercollegiate athletics at Ithaca College, expected to hear was that her long-time best friend, Dee Relph ‘78, wanted to donate $100,000 to endow the college’s women’s basketball program.
“We were at a wedding for a former classmate of Dee’s, and Dee got up and left the table and her husband leaned over and said ‘We would like to make a contribution in Dee’s honor,’” Basset, who graduated from the college a year after Relph, said. “What she did in her time at Ithaca and for her to give back is just tremendous.”
Relph’s contribution makes the women’s basketball program the first–ever women’s athletic program to be exclusively endowed at the college. An endowment is a donation of money to an organization for the ongoing financial support of that group. For the college, a minimum of $100,000 is needed to endow an athletic program. The only other teams to be endowed are football, wrestling, cross country and crew.
Bassett said that creating the Dee Mayes Relph ‘78 and Bob Relph Women’s Basketball Fund, will provide opportunities for athletes for many years in the future. Relph said the money could allow the team to take more trips and attend camps or clinics.
Relph, who played basketball, field hockey and softball at the college, said she decided to donate to the basketball program because of her ongoing love of basketball.
“Basketball has almost always been my favorite sport,” Relph said. “When it was time to make a decision, I really wanted to give a little extra to the basketball program.”
Not only was Relph inducted into the Ithaca College Athletic Hall of Fame in 1985, but she also played for the Philadelphia Fox in the Women’s Professional Basketball League after she graduated. During her senior year at the college, she led the team in scoring, averaging 13 points and five rebounds per game. Her success led the Bombers to a 14–3 overall record that season.
Relph said that she hopes the endowment will create new experiences for the team.
“It’s going to give the head coach an opportunity to give these kids something they wouldn’t be able to do or experience,” Relph said. “Resources that he has that might give Ithaca an edge on some of the schools they are competing with.”
The draw from the endowment will be approximately 5 percent. While there are no funds yet available, Bassett said that the funds will take one year to accumulate.
Head coach Dan Raymond said the money will be used to help fund the team’s community service trip to the Bronx in December, where the players visit a public school to spend time with the children. It will also help with his long-term goal of planning an international trip within the next couple of years.
Freshman guard Grace Cannon said the endowment will give the team a better shot at competing internationally.
“I think we will be open to a lot more opportunities,” Cannon said. “We could travel farther and get the Ithaca College name known across the world … with the endowment, the opportunities are endless.”
Relph said that her long-time friendship with Basset caused her to take an interest in the college again. When Bassett was hired as the athletic director, Relph said she wanted to donate.
“When Susan got hired, it really peaked my interest again in Ithaca, and it was a real turning point for us,” Relph said. “I saw what she was doing at Ithaca and I wanted to support her and give back to the school that did so much for me.”
Bassett said she hopes this endowment will help with the athletes’ financial situations.
“Many of our students are on financial aid, and to take some of the pressure off of fundraising for special events is really great,” Bassett said. “What we want is to be able to compete at the highest level and provide a first-class experience, so that’s what these opportunities create for our program.”
Senior forward Julie Yacovoni said that the commitment of an alum to donate this money is amazing.
“It means a lot to show how the alumni still support the program so much and they support what we’ve been doing the past four years,” Yacovoni said. “It just means a lot that people who were in our shoes still care enough to step up and donate that much money to be able to help the future teams.”
Raymond said that when he heard about the donation in the fall, he was in shock.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Raymond said. “Our program went from being one of the ones with the least amount of auxiliary income to being endowed.”
Sophomore forward Cassidy O’Malley said that Relph’s commitment to the program is very important to her.
“This endowment means a lot to me because seeing the level of commitment from alumni is something so great to see as an athlete and it really fulfills the reason that I came here,” O’Malley said. “We are one of the first women’s program to get it, which is more important and seeing that goes a really long way for the rest of us.”
Basset said that she hopes this donation sparks interest in other college alumni.
“It is an investment in the program’s future,” Bassett said. “It establishes something that will be a foundation for the future and what we are hoping is other people get excited and contribute as well.”
O’Malley said that everyone on the team is extremely happy with Relph’s decision to make the endowment.
“When Susan came in and explained everything to us, I was like ‘Wow that’s awesome,’” O’Malley said. “To see someone do such a generous and unselfish thing is great for our program, and we are all so grateful and happy.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that both the men’s and women’s cross country and crew teams are endowed.