Texas Tech University

Making a Lasting Impact: Larry Vanderwoude

Ashley Brister

November 13, 2020

larry and paula vanderwoude

Alumnus Returns to Texas Tech After Years in Recovery

A personal connection to students in recovery made the decision to give back that much easier, offering students a leg up in their academic and recovery journey

Former business owner and DWI Intervention program educator Larry Vanderwoude is passionate about giving back to others in recovery. He and his wife Paula established two endowments in the Center for Collegiate Recovery Communities (CRC) at Texas Tech, a decision they didn't hesitate to make. The scholarship and operation endowments greatly benefit Texas Tech students at the CRC, supported by knowledgeable faculty and staff to guide them in their academic journey in recovery.

Vanderwoude said he and his wife knew they wanted to provide students in recovery the opportunity to have a leg up in their academic journey, a chance he didn't have his first time as a student. After getting sober in '86 and going through some legal hassles of his own, he had a new lease on life.

"In '93, I was able to start my business working with multiple DWI offenders," Vanderwoude said. "And no one was working with multiple DWI offenders at the time. I had a friend that was a judge; he said, 'Would you please help me with these multiple DWI offenders?' I said, sure. I don't know what I'm doing. But I will learn real fast."

Before long, that idea grew into a program that later became state-mandated for DWI offenders. Today it is known as the Texas DWI Intervention Program.

"From '93 on, that grew into a bigger business and a bigger business, and then a really big business, and then I was able to sell it in 2018. But for those 25 years, we saw thousands of folks get clean and sober. I was able to help thousands of folks to do that."

Vanderwoude previously attended Texas Tech and had many family members and friends who did the same. One day in his role as Chairman of the Dallas 24 Hour Club, a homeless alcohol and drug rehab facility, he was asked to speak with a group from the Center for Collegiate Recovery Communities while they were visiting. During that visit, Vanderwoude met with faculty, staff, and students from the CCRC, something that he says forever changed his life.

"I met Dr. Tom Kimball, and I met a couple of guys that are in the program. And we really connected. One guy in the program, he and I connected because his background and mine were the same. He'd gotten in trouble, too. He was in the insurance business. That's what I was doing. A family insurance business, drinking got in his way. And he was in the program at Tech. And so, we really had that connection, and we've become very close friends since then."

Those connections led to more interactions with the CCRC, including one particular graduation celebration for the Texas Tech students in recovery. The experience had quite an impact on the Vanderwoudes, both being in recovery for years themselves.

"I mean, I get goosebumps every time I think about that night," Vanderwoude said. "And that's when we decided that we wanted to and that we're able to give some money to some person that needed to go to college or finish college."

That gift provided generous support for many Red Raiders in recovery. Vanderwoude's connection with CCRC Director Tom Kimball, Ph.D., and Managing Director Vincent Sanchez led to conversations about returning to Texas Tech to complete his degree. Vanderwoude left campus 50 years ago before finishing his degree due to addiction. He wasn't sure Texas Tech would welcome him back with open arms. However, Kimball and Sanchez urged him to consider and guided Vanderwoude through the process.

"Vincent said, 'you're in,'" Vanderwoude said. "I didn't know what to say. It was an emotional moment for me to come back 50 years later."

At the age of 68, he reenrolled to finish his degree with support from the CCRC. Vanderwoude said that he felt blessed that his company was bought out in 2018, providing the financial means to give back to students who may not have been able to go back to school without that financial support.

"Paula and I wanted to be able to give back; to give to someone; to give them that leg up; to get them through college to get that degree, not to have the shame of flunking out of school or the shame of not being able to make it or the shame of being an alcoholic or drug addict. We've always been taught to work with others and give back more than what we received. And that's what we've decided to do."

Vanderwoude said he's heard from students in the Center for Collegiate Recovery Communities about just how impactful a financial gift for students in recovery can be.

"I've been there. I know exactly what they're feeling. I may be an old guy, but I've been sitting there in that chair with the heartache that I caused my family, you know, and the shame that I caused my family. But to come back and be in school on a scholarship is a miracle in itself. And that's why we decided to do it."

For his wife, she understands more than most what this opportunity can mean to students, having spent years in recovery alongside her husband.

"Addiction is deadly, as you know, and devastating on families, and you just lose a lot of ground when it's active," Mrs. Vanderwoude said. "As long as you're in it, you keep digging yourself deeper. And then if you do get up and out of it, to me, that's where this kind of money can fit with minorities with women. Addiction is cunning, baffling, and powerful. But, you know, people stay sober. Something happens and they're dedicated. They start realizing that life is short. And they only got this one chance and to go for it, because the payoff is wonderful."

The Vanderwoude's support for Texas Tech extends beyond giving and the classroom, as both are avid Red Raider athletics fans who often attend basketball games and more.

"I think what's really cool about Texas Tech and to see it from 50 years ago to what the school is today," Vanderwoude said. "50 years ago, it was just a little bitty college in this big dust bowl. Now there's a medical school. Now we have the vet school, the law school. That's the wow factor, to see it has grown up into a major university."

Vanderwoude encourages others with the ability and motivation to give students a helping hand in finishing their degree, especially at the Center for Collegiate Recovery Communities or the College of Human Sciences.

"You know, and for someone to be able to go to college and have a year of sobriety, I was never given that. I was never given that option. That's exactly why we decided to give it back to give someone else a chance."