Rugby players are known for their camaraderie — on and off the field. But what alumni players at Saint Mary’s College are doing in the wake of teammate Dan Otter’s death goes far beyond friendship. They’re raising funds at a furious pace for an endowment in Otter’s honor.
It takes $50,000 to set up a permanent endowment and the Saint Mary’s College Rugby Alumni Association showed its commitment early by donating $22,000 in proceeds from its annual Pat Vincent Dinner and Fundraiser last fall.
“It’s very difficult to raise the money without a ‘big money’ guy behind it,” said Tom Carroll, Saint Mary’s Assistant Athletic Director for Development. “But the way Dan passed away, the people behind him, we knew there would be support for him.”
Otter died unexpectedly last July at the age of 51. The news touched his teammates and friends in a profound way.
“You know, he was just such a good guy,” said Rugby Alumni Board member Mike Wise, who played football with Otter in the early 1980s. “There’s a very strong alumni community of guys who played for Saint Mary’s,” he said, “and Dan was a big supporter of the Alumni Association. He said it also hit home that Otter died so suddenly. “He was close to my age,” said Wise. “Fifties is a little young. We thought, ‘We ought to do something to memorialize this guy.’” Wise said Otter packed a lot into his time here on earth. “When he passed away in Lake Tahoe on a bike ride, he was actually there for a nonprofit board meeting for Alzheimer’s.” Otter was a leader when it came to raising money and awareness for the fight against neurologic disease. He was just 12 when his father died of Alzheimer’s, and in later years his mother succumbed to the same illness. His friends say he dedicated his life to finding a cure.
Otter was also an avid outdoorsman who loved fishing and cycling and camping with his wife and three young children. He was active in Boy Scouts and coached Little League and was known as a deeply devoted husband and father. Otter was also an Academic All-American when he played rugby and football at Saint Mary’s. He graduated with honors in 1982. “After his death — the next week — a whole string of guys was contributing stories by email about Dan,” said Wise, who shared his own story about Gaels football camp back in 1980. “There was rookie hazing at the camps and Dan had to get up and sing. He sang ‘Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown’ by Jim Croce. It was unbelievable. He just nailed it.” Wise said Otter was always comfortable in his own skin.
After graduating magna cum laude, Otter went on to earn his MBA from UCLA. He set up his first company in Palmdale, California, where he built shopping centers and business parks. By the time he turned 50, he’d spent almost 30 years in a successful commercial real estate career, winning numerous awards for his designs and development.
Through it all, he was never far from his roots at Saint Mary’s. Otter played with the Diablo Gaels Rugby Football Club until a year ago, traveling with the team to tournaments around the state. His passion for rugby was the catalyst for the Dan Otter Rugby Scholarship Fund, which will help rugby players with tuition assistance at SMC.
“I think he’d be thrilled to help a student athlete in need,” said Wise. “Dan wouldn’t want his name out there — he’s not that kind of guy — but I think he’d be honored.”