Family matters to ASU super-advocate Dan Turbyfill
Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2015, click here.
Dan Turbyfill likes to get up early on game day and smell the freshly cut grass at Sun Devil Stadium.
This is hours before kickoff — the calm before the storm — when barely a soul is around.
He has performed the ritual for every home football game in the past five years, anticipating the electric atmosphere that will shortly follow — tailgate parties, the sounds of the marching band, the sea of maroon and gold, Sparky thrusting his pitchfork in the air, the players roaring out of the locker room and onto the field topped off by an explosive fireworks display.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year to be a Sun Devil,” Turbyfill said. “I want every ASU student to experience the same feelings and emotions that I do on game day, and instill that pride in them.”
As student program manager for the ASU Alumni Association, it’s Turbyfill’s job to get ASU students pumped up about the game, their academic careers and, perhaps most important, to encourage graduates to become ASU family members for life by joining the Alumni Association.
“I’m a first-generation college graduate in my family, so when I got that acceptance letter from ASU, it was the most extraordinary moment in my life,” Turbyfill said. “I had numerous ASU professors assist me in advancing my career, and I maintained excellent communication with them well after I graduated.”
Turbyfill left ASU after graduating in 1995 with a bachelor's in recreation and tourism management. He moved west, working in Southern California managing the Sports and Aquatics Division for the city of Manhattan Beach and, later, for the Pleasant Valley Recreation and Park District in Ventura, California.
He came back to Arizona in spring 1998 and worked for the town of Gilbert. Whatever downtime Turbyfill had — he was married with three children — he devoted to ASU in a volunteer capacity. He lectured students about his work, served as alumni chapter president and even sold roses at commencement — anything to give back to his alma mater.
“One day a good friend of mine looked at me and said, ‘Dan, why don’t you just work for ASU?’ ” Turbyfill said. “ASU was my passion and escape from my regular job at the time, but I didn’t know how to make it full-time work.”
That opportunity came in 2007 when ASU offered him a position as a special-events manager with the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Later, Turbyfill was recruited by the Alumni Association in 2009 as its student program manager, overseeing the Medallion Scholarship Program, Legacy Scholarship Association and the Student Alumni Association, which recently hit the 2,000-member mark. Despite the heavy workload and long hours, Turbyfill says what he does is personally and professionally satisfying.
“I’ve seen students who came here as nervous freshmen and who had so many high expectations from their family and didn’t know if they could do it,” Turbyfill said. “I see them thrive today and doing well, and that is heartwarming.”
The familial atmosphere he nurtures is gratifying. But it works both ways.
The ASU community embraced Turbyfill during one of the most painful episodes of his life when his wife, Laurie, was diagnosed with muscular system atrophy, a terminal disorder that affects the body’s autonomic functions like breathing and digestion.
“The ASU community just surrounded me with their love and support. I was able to take compassionate leave so I was able to be at home with Laurie,” Turbyfill said. “Students would bring me meals at night and doughnuts in the morning, or offered to watch Laurie while I went grocery shopping or did work-related things. Others left us beautiful notes of support, saying, ‘Love you, Dan.’ It was very heartwarming.”
After Laurie died in June 2013, Turbyfill leaned into the warm embrace of the university — a comfort he’s still feeling.
Last semester he went back to school to pursue his master’s in public administration, and two years ago he volunteered in the equipment room to prepare the football team for Camp Tontozona in Payson.
Speaking of his connection to the ASU football team, when football coach Todd Graham first stepped foot in Sun Devil Stadium after being hired in 2011, it was Turbyfill who gave the coach his first ASU wristband. It read, “I am a Sun Devil.”
The motto might as well have been scripted for Turbyfill, whose campus office reflects his commitment with a dense decorative collage of maroon and gold — from personalized license plates to a computer mouse in the shape of a Sun Devil football helmet.
The only thing that seems to be missing is that distinct scent of fresh-cut turf in Sun Devil Stadium.