Grateful Alumnus Calls Saint Mary’s a Life-Changing Experience

John Asher ’83 lost his father when he was 16, and grew up in an environment that he described as “entirely different” from most of his classmates at Saint Mary’s College. An Oakland native, John attended public schools, and spent time with a group of friends who worked on cars. “I didn’t have a lot of guidance growing up, and I appreciated the structure and boundaries of Saint Mary’s,” said John. “The College is such an important place; it changed my life in many ways. My Saint Mary’s experience made me who I am and gave me opportunities to succeed.” 

Raised by his mother, a single widowed parent who supported the family by selling real estate, John recalled her struggles to pay his Saint Mary’s tuition. “My mom would tell me how difficult it was to write those checks, but it was one of the best investments she ever made because of who I am today and what I do,” said John, adding that his classmates were part of the equation for his success. “I learned my interpersonal skill set from high-quality parochial kids who had great families, structures, and boundaries,” he said, adding that social events on campus provided an opportunity for him to practice his social skills. 

A hard worker, John earned the nickname “Library Asher,” because he spent so much time during the week at the library. “I always felt that I had to work harder than others,” he said.” I couldn’t focus in my dorm room because I was a social person.” John majored in business, and took many accounting classes as well. 

The Christian Brothers were also important mentors and friends. Brother Mel Anderson ’51 attended John’s wedding to his wife Kim, and they still exchange Christmas cards. Brother Jerome West was his dorm counselor and put him on the path to his current career by introducing him to Gerry Donnelly ’72 at a career night on campus. That meeting led to John’s first job at the global investment bank Bear Stearns, which he parlayed into his current career as a financial advisor.

John lived on campus all four years because he “didn’t want to miss a second of the Saint Mary’s environment,” describing his time at the College as a life highlight. He loved living in the dorms with the “open doors and people coming in and hanging out.” His senior year he lived in a townhouse with three other seniors. John reminisced about sit-down meals which he and his friends cooked together three or four times a week. One of these friends was Vern Oswald ’83, who died when he was only 42. John’s wife Kim urged him to set up an endowed scholarship fund to honor Vern, and John took up the challenge. “Vern was a person of limited financial means, who put himself through school with loans and working on the weekends,” said John. “The Vern F. Oswald Endowed Scholarship provides financial support for students in need who are accounting majors.” John still considers the friends he made at the College among his closest friends, including Mike Soldati ’83, Chris McCaffrey ’83, and Chris Morris ’83.

In addition to the endowed scholarship, John and Kim are stalwart supporters of Saint Mary’s athletics, particularly men’s basketball and the Tip Off Club. The couple enjoys attending basketball games together, and following the men’s basketball team is a particular passion for Kim. As she put it, “It’s wonderful to watch the players arrive as freshman and see what they do with their basketball career. It’s so exciting to follow the team and see how they develop together.” Before the pandemic, John and Kim started traveling to watch away games, and they are hoping to travel again once travel restrictions are lifted. “Traveling to see the team play, you get to know the real hardcore Saint Mary’s fans,” said John. “Seeing the team play in Sioux Falls was a great experience, and brought our engagement to a new level.” Kim added that she can’t wait to get back in the stadium again with the team. 

“We are grateful to John and Kim for their tremendous support of Gaels men's basketball and the Tip Off Club,” said Tom Carroll, senior associate athletics director for advancement. “They epitomize the family feeling that our athletics programs provide for our fans and donors.” 

John repeatedly expressed his gratitude for the many ways that the College shaped his life. “Part of the reason that we are able to give back is because of the impact that Saint Mary’s had on my life, and I want to give back to the College," he said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and wouldn’t have the skill set I have without SMC.” He added that the unique Saint Mary’s experience made it all possible. “It was the combination of my fellow students, the professors who cared about us holistically, the Brothers and their relationship with us, and being on campus 24/7 for those four years. Not to mention the alumni giving me a job!” said John. “I feel so grateful and indebted to Saint Mary’s.”