Service to the Community Award
DONALD R. KOJIS, ARTS '61
Don smashed 10 Marquette basketball records (he was once the all-time scoring leader with 1,504 points and still ranks as the top career rebounder with 1,222 boards) before his 12 seasons in the NBA. But his most impressive stat: helping more than 9,000 people — and rising every year — through Whispering Winds, a 161-acre Catholic family camp and conference center he co-founded in the forested mountains outside San Diego.
“I like working with our youth and families,” he says. “I do it because when you see our Lord working in their lives at our camp and watch them carry this back to their cities and homes, you know we are making a difference in their lives.”
A philosophy major who was the first in his family to graduate from college, Don credits Marquette for honing his work ethic and moral compass — and, of course, opening the door to his NBA career. He played for the Baltimore Bullets, Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls, San Diego Rockets, Seattle SuperSonics and Kansas City-Omaha Kings and was twice named an All-Star. After he hung up his jersey, he worked as director of marketing for M-M Court Systems, which builds racquetball courts.
In 1976, Don’s family and some friends, fellow Catholics, took a week’s vacation at a Protestant family camp. “Why doesn’t the Catholic community in L.A. and San Diego have something like this? Somebody should build a place like this near San Diego,” he later recalled in a Los Angeles magazine.
After awhile, he realized that “someone” would have to be him. So Don and his friend, Jerry Tisi, found an idyllic spot in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour outside San Diego and spent the next several years begging for donations as they tried to give shape to their dream, often just barely covering the camp’s monthly bills. “Somehow the Lord provided the money to pay off whatever payments we missed,” Don later wrote.
They welcomed their first guests in 1985, before they even had any permanent buildings, and Whispering Winds has grown ever since. After 34 years of running the camp, Don retired and now tries to spend as much time as possible with his four grandchildren (who already love to visit Grandpa’s camp in the mountains).
“My definition of success is to make a difference in as many people’s lives as possible,” Don says simply.