If you were an animal, what would you be? When friends of John Frankel '11 posed that question six years ago, he responded, "A dog with its head out the window."
After John died in a car accident over the winter break of his senior year, his mother Elise Falkinburg received many letters referencing this conversation. "I hadn't heard that, but when I read it, it was just so believable," she said. "It's just completely what he was like in terms of his spirit and happiness; taking it all in and making it happen. It was sort of perfect."
That image of a dog with its head out the window is now sewn in the pattern of a Vineyard Vines tie, the proceeds from which go to the John Frankel Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship recently reached its $250,000 goal, and a matching gift is on the table for up to 200 additional tie sales.
The ties came to fruition as the result of a partnership among six of John’s friends—I.S. Dunklin ’11, Kevin Hubbard ’11, Matthew Loftus ’11, George Stewart ’11, Alex Pardy and Chris Raven—and the clothing company Vineyard Vines.
“It all began when we stole our friend’s pants,” said Loftus. “We were joking around by taking pictures in the pants and started calling ourselves ‘The Brotherhood of the Traveling Pants’.”
Loftus’s father suggested they look into marketing opportunities, and so they sent a LinkedIn message to Vineyard Vines. One conference with the director of marketing and a few pairs of pants later, they had a campaign with more than 10,000 followers on Instagram (@brotherhoodofthetravelingpants).
“We were mostly doing things we would have done during the summer anyway; we just wore the pants and took photos,” said Hubbard. The photos range from them waterskiing in the pants to welding in the pants.
When Vineyard Vines inquired about what they might want in return, they replied that they only wanted to find a way to raise money for the John Frankel Memorial Scholarship. “They loved the idea of giving back,” said Hubbard. That’s where the ties came in—they chose a tie because the company is known for their ties and it’s a marketable product.”
The brotherhood asked Stewart's mother Mary Stewart, a former art teacher, to design the pattern. "We have golden retrievers that my mom used for the image," said Stewart. "It's just a great image in general-that idea of unrestrained joy."
Background colors include light blue for Frankel's lifelong summer camp, Camp Dudley, and red for Davidson. When they presented the mock-up to Vineyard Vines, the company used it as-is and produced and delivered the first 100 ties free of charge.
"It essentially became a case study for us in marketing, but was also a really fun experience in which we were able to give back to Davidson and honor the memory of our friend," said Hubbard.
While the tie sales have pushed the scholarship to the finish line, the majority of fundraising occurred before the Vineyard Vines partnership began. In the spring of 2011 Dunklin and Loftus worked as part of a group of Frankel's friends, including Molly Duncan '11, Josh Parkey '11, John's girlfriend Casie Genetti '11, and his younger brother James Frankel '13, to create the scholarship, which is awarded to one student every four years.
"We met with Maddie Stough '08 who was really supportive and helped us formulate a plan on where to go with the scholarship and how to reach out to people," said Dunklin. "Once we got started, the support from across the Davidson community was overwhelming."
For the initial push, friends of Frankel sent letters to their families and friends. Within two months they raised $130,000. As the next step, they organized a kickball tournament hosted by Frankel's fraternity, Kappa Sigma, and Connor Eating House. They chose Frankel's saying "No Bad Days" as the motto for the event.
"Kickball stood out as something that John loved doing because it was spontaneous and brought together large groups of people," said Dunklin. "It's a joy to watch everyone improve it each year and to see how big of a role the event still plays in the lives of Davidson students."
The next wave of fundraising came from pledges; more than 60 Davidson students pledged to give $1,000 over five years. Many students from the class of 2011 requested donations as graduation gifts. "It was great for our class to take ownership of the scholarship and get everyone involved," said Dunklin.
After Frankel visited Davidson as a prospective student, he didn't consider another school. His mother Elise recalls, "He said ‘I love Davidson. It's like Dudley–a caring and nurturing community with people who are trustworthy and genuine'."
Dean of Students Tom Shandley knew Frankel well as a leader in his fraternity, a member of Leadership Davidson, and also as his off-campus neighbor for two semesters.
"This is a Davidson story," he said. "A place like this makes it happen because students so highly treasure the quality of their friendships. I'm very proud of these men for what they've accomplished."
Falkinburg and Errol Frankel admitted that while the idea for a scholarship sounded wonderful, it initially seemed like an incredible monetary goal.
"Our family is very in awe of how these young people were able to use their ingenuity and creativity to achieve their goal," said Errol. "It's a tremendous tribute to them and their group of friends, and shows what Davidson students can accomplish."
Since this article was published the ties have sold out and are currently on back order. Proceeds from future tie sales will continue to go toward the scholarship fund.