VISTA — His alter ego, San Diego news anchor Ron Burgundy, is known for his inflated ego, but chances are Will Ferrell doesn’t want the secret to get out that he’s a good guy and a great friend.
For the past 15 years, Ferrell has traveled to North County to help his former fraternity brother Craig Pollard raise scholarship money for students with cancer through Pollard’s nonprofit, Cancer for College.
Pollard was already a one-time cancer survivor when the two met through the Delta Tau Delta Fraternity at USC in 1986. They were 18 years old at the time.
As a sophomore, Pollard’s Hodgkin’s lymphoma returned, forcing him to sit out a semester while undergoing a bone marrow transplant at the City of Hope.
Laying in his hospital bed one night, he made a promise to God to help other cancer survivors.
“The summer of 1989 I volunteered at Ronald McDonald Camp Good Times where parents would come up to me and say it was great that I was going to college,” he said, adding that the encounters raised awareness that the financial cost of battling the disease made college out of reach for the parents of many college-age patients.
When he returned to USC Business School, Pollard prepared a business plan for a golf product he invented as well as a nonprofit he named Cancer for College, which would provide scholarships for cancer survivors and that would be funded by a “little” golf tournament.
The first tournament in 1993 raised $500 and was given to one scholarship recipient.
Looking back, Pollard explained that he didn’t approach Ferrell for a donation at the time because he knew he was a struggling standup comic.
“Will heard about another golf tournament fundraiser through the fraternity in 1995 and gave $50,” Pollard recalled. In the fall of 1995, Ferrell debuted as a cast member on Saturday Night Live.
“After he was picked up by SNL he was invited to play at the tournament and he ended up asking me if I wanted him to do the auction and funny stuff on stage,” Pollard recalled. “His wife was a professional auctioneer and they have been doing our auction ever since.”
In 2007, Ferrell auctioned off a walk-on role in an upcoming movie of his that generated nearly $50,000 for Cancer for College.
“As you can imagine, I get approached to be involved in a lot of causes,” Ferrell explained. “Everyone I talk to about the charity is blown away by the idea of helping these kids realize their dream of a college education. Almost no one thinks of the reality of a family burning through all their resources to get their child well to the point that college is a complete after thought.”
He added: “My favorite part of being involved with the charity is meeting the scholarship recipients and their families.
“There is almost a higher level of consciousness to them. They have been through so much. They just want to regain some normalcy to their life and have the college experience. They are motivated to get through school and get out there and do something great with their lives. It never ceases to amaze me how special these individuals are.”
As Ferrell’s fame has grown, so has his generosity of time and contributions.
“We’re successful because of Will Ferrell,” Pollard said. “One problem with Will is that it increases awareness. Another problem with Will is that because of awareness more people apply.”
To date, more than 1,700 scholarships totaling $2 million have been awarded.
Cancer for College offers one-time scholarships in the amount of $500, $1,000, $1,500 and $3,000. A premier perpetual scholarship is also awarded each year which equates to $4,000 a year for four years.
“One scholarship recipient is currently a nurse in the oncology wing where she was treated,” Pollard explained. “A couple of applicants are in medical school. Most kids want to go back and either be an oncologist or nurse or healthcare worker — or do something else to give back.”
To qualify for a scholarship, candidates must be in treatment for cancer, and enrolled or in the process of applying to an accredited university.
For more information or to make a donation, call (760) 599-5096 or visit cancerforcollege.com.