A sense of community
by Nathaniel Miller
The college experience is unique for everyone. Some students try to attend as many sports events as they can, while others find solace in studying in the library before going to work.
Leticia “Leti” Contreras (B.A. ’89) and Thomas “Tom” Contreras (B.B.A. ’88), of San Antonio, hope all students will get to share a sense of togetherness and community. For them, the community at St. Mary’s University is what makes it so special.
In fact, it’s that togetherness and community that brought the two together. They each tell the same story with slight variations, but it involves meeting at the original, on-campus pub, and continues on through their careers, rearing two children (also St. Mary’s alumni) and supporting their alma mater. Leti Contreras became chair of the St. Mary’s Board of Trustees in 2020, making her the first woman to serve as chair in the history of the University’s governing boards. Tom Contreras chaired the Greehey School of Business portion of The Defining Moment Comprehensive Campaign.
Had that one serendipitous moment at the original Pub not happened, the two may have gone down different life paths. Because an area existed for students, faculty and staff to mingle, it brought people on different trajectories together.
“It’s not just about a pub and grabbing a beer. It’s having a place to commune and a place to just chill out and talk,” Tom Contreras said. “That’s important for a Catholic Marianist university like St. Mary’s.”
Sharing defining moments
They call their meeting one of many defining moments while attending St. Mary’s. So as part of The Defining Moment Comprehensive Campaign, the couple donated $3.2 million: $900,000 to create the Contreras Family Terrace and Student Lounge, along with reopening The Pub at St. Mary’s, $220,000 to the Rattler Golf team and $2 million to further the study of Risk Management in the business school.
Their path to St. Mary’s, and toward each other, also happened seemingly by chance.
Leticia “Leti” Contreras
“Giving is about the students in future generations. We’ve had our experience. We’ve arrived. Now, it’s about giving many other students that same experience.”
A first-generation college student from San Antonio, Tom Contreras said he was drawn to St. Mary’s after an unexpected meeting with a member of the Golf team who told him he would be a good fit for the school. Once here, his time on campus was also filled with intramural sports.
Leti Contreras’ experience was a bit different. Growing up near the campus, she said the University was down the road and gave her the chance to walk to class while obtaining scholarships and working full-time. She also joined a sorority and worked as a student-teacher.
“For us, that was a defining moment,” she said. “So many years post-graduation, it all would have been different had we not met and shared our dreams, the aspirations, the career goals and the faith that we both have together.”
Focusing on the future
The couple has also served the St. Mary’s community in other ways. In addition to Leti Contreras chairing the Board of Trustees during the culmination of The Defining Moment Comprehensive Campaign, the couple established the Contreras Family Executive in Residence and the Risk Management Student Success Fund in the Greehey School of Business.
The couple says donating to the school is more than just giving substantial amounts of money. It’s about giving what you can and when you can, be it through time or money.
“Giving is about the students in future generations,” Leti Contreras said. “We’ve had our experience. We’ve arrived. Now, it’s about giving many other students that same experience.”
Tom Contreras added it was important to help give to the next set of leaders to ensure they have every opportunity to achieve their goals.
“We’ve been profoundly blessed beyond measure,” Tom Contreras added. “It’s important for us to be good stewards of what we’ve achieved. St. Mary’s easily became our No. 1 priority.”