A Party With a Purpose

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There’s no doubt that the Sean “Ranch” Lough Foundation throws the biggest (and best) Kentucky Derby Party outside of Churchill Downs. But what many party-goers don’t know is why the party exists—and the way it changes Denver-area students’ lives.

 

HOW IT BEGAN: Ten years ago, Denver locals Terrence Hunt and Scott Anderson were searching for a way to honor their friend Sean “Ranch” Lough, who had passed away in a mountain-biking accident in Virginia. The two men decided to try turning their annual parties—Hunt’s holiday fete and Anderson’s Labor Day bash—into fundraisers for a small scholarship fund they established in their friend’s honor.

“We needed a spring event to round out our fundraising,” Hunt remembers. Before Lough passed away, he was supposed to meet Hunt at the Kentucky Derby, but he didn’t make it because he had to work. “That was the last time I would have seen him,” Hunt says.

So the friends added a Derby party to their roster. The first year, it took place at the Wash Park Boat House. “We had a few sponsors and one of those water jugs to collect donations,” Hunt says.

 

A DENVER TRADITION IS BORN: The party evolved—to put it mildly. Before long, the party planners moved the Derby Party to the Denver Botanic Gardens. Last year, more than 3,000 people bought tickets, which often sell out within 45 minutes.

The party is a hit, but more important to Hunt, Anderson and Lough’s other friends is the way it changes students’ lives. For the past nine years, the Sean Ranch Lough Foundation has given a scholarship to a high-achieving, low-income student from the Denver area to attend Colorado State University. The recipient is always a first-generation college student.

The first five scholarships covered tuition for four years. Then five years ago, the Foundation raised enough to award one full-ride scholarship a year, which covers tuition, room, board, fees and books for the student’s four years at school.

 

WHO WAS SEAN LOUGH? “Sean was one of those guys who didn’t have an enemy,” Hunt says. “He wanted to laugh with people and make people laugh, but he was also one of the most focused people I’ve ever known.” Lough graduated from Colorado State University and took a job with the Gates Rubber Co., where he quickly got promoted to engineer. He left Denver for the University of Texas, where he graduated with honors and an MBA with an emphasis in information technology. Then Lough took a job with Honeywell in Virginia, where he was part of a fast-track program to upper management.

“Sean was brilliant and very motivated, and he’d take every hour of the day to do something great,” Hunt says.

 

WHAT IT MEANS: Fred Herrera is the most recent scholarship winner. He graduated from Arupe Jesuit High School, a private school that serves economically disadvantaged students with a unique program. Students work one day a week at local businesses; in turn, the businesses pay a significant amount of the students’ tuition. To make up for the time outside of class, the school day and school year are longer than usual.

“It’s a pretty structured place,” says college counselor Joanne Augustine, adding that 100 percent of the students’ graduates have been accepted to college in the school’s four-year history. “The challenge, of course, is helping students find the financial means to go to college.”

Herrera agrees. “The scholarship changed my life,” he says. “It lifted a burden off my shoulders. I can study without worrying about how much my studies are costing my family.”

Herrera plans to major in business marketing, and he says he’s enjoying CSU’s academic and social life. “The Sean Lough Foundation chose me to represent them, and I am taking this opportunity to do as much as I can in college. I can’t imagine a better opportunity to build my life.”

 

The Sean “Ranch” Lough Foundation has absolutely no operating expenses. Its founders and supporters volunteer their time, and the scholarship funds are deposited into CSU’s 501(c)3 and are managed by the school’s endowment manager.

 

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