Sherry + Tom Koski
Sherry and Tom Koski believe in the power of education. They back it up with generous giving—throughout the community and at Ringling College.
For the Koskis, giving and entre-preneurship are family traditions. Tom’s father, Bob Koski, co-founded Sun Hydraulics and grew the Sarasota-based business into a global phenomenon—but never forgot his roots. Since its earliest days, the firm empowered area nonprofits to do good work. It clearly made an impression on Tom.
“Everything I know about giving back, I learned from my folks,” he says. “I’ve got big shoes to fill.” Sherry agrees, “Sarasota has been extremely good to us; it’s only natural that we give back.”
Why is education at the top of their giving list? “Because it changes lives,” says Tom. “To quote my two favorite bumper stickers: ‘There’s nothing wrong with this world that a good education can’t fix,’ and ‘Children may be a third of our population, but they’re 100% of our future’.”
The Koskis support a host of edu-cational initiatives that have one thing in common—they have measurable goals that they actually meet. What’s their secret? How do they know?
“It comes down to the human factor,” says Sherry. “We form relationships, ask questions, and keep searching until we strike educational gold.”
First, find the right people. Visionaries who dream big but also get things done. Next, find the right programs—ones that create real human connections and generate visible results.
They found both at Ringling College.
Starting with Dr. Larry R. Thompson. “We had a true meeting of the minds,” says Sherry. “We instantly saw eye to eye.”
Their discussions were electric. Dr. Thompson shares their belief in education and their love of the arts.
“There’s a push to reduce education to ‘STEM,’” says Tom. “Larry pushes back by adding an ‘A’ for arts and making it ‘STEAM.’ In the not-too-distant future, everything that can be automated will be. Human creativity is the one thing that can’t be programmed. Now more than ever, we need to teach creativity to the next generation.”
The Koskis believe in Thompson’s educational priorities and his emphasis on learning by doing. They put their money where their belief is—and have supported a range of programs at the College ever since.
The Koskis set a fundraising record when they chaired “An Evening at the Avant-Garde” in 2017. They are strong backers of YEA (Youth Experiencing Art)—an integrative arts program unleashing creativity in Title I classrooms. And they have also given to a student professional development fund, which empowers hard-pressed graduating students to focus on their senior projects, without worrying about making ends meet.
Working with Wendy Surkis, who led the effort, they moved heaven and earth to restore the Gothic splendor of the 1926 Sarasota High School building—and gave the Sarasota Museum of Art a future home in the process. Tom went to school in that building and is passionate about its preservation and led the effort to raise money from fellow graduates to name the auditorium for the alumni.
These initiatives are all effective—both on campus and in the community. But the Koskis don’t define effectiveness in utilitarian terms.
“Arts education can definitely have a professional payoff,” says Tom. “But it means much more than getting a job. The deepest reward is fulfilling your human potential. The arts can do that like nothing else can.”
“Yes, they can,” says Sherry. “It’s a kind of magic.”
How does the magic happen? Tom answers with a theory. He calls it the “Time Bandits Theory,” in honor of Terry Gilliam’s movie.
“We’ve all experienced those moments when time disappears,” he explains. “Time Bandits appear when you’re doing something creative. For me, it was music, but it’s different for everyone. I think that’s the key to education. Identify the Time Bandits for every student—the activity that makes time disappear—and we have an insight to their natural talents. If we then feed these talents, we increase our odds of creating successful adults.”
“That happens every day at Ringling College,” says Sherry. “They’re experts at introducing talented young people to their own Time Bandits. We’re just happy to be part of the process.”
By Su Byron | Photo by Matthew Holler ’11
Su Byron is a poet and freelance writer based in Sarasota.