Public's generosity overwhelms Mids

Aim is to bring kin of student to U.S.

April 03, 2001|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

The Naval Academy was flooded with calls yesterday and throughout the weekend from people as far away as Massachusetts offering food, services and thousands of dollars to help a West African midshipman bring his parents to his graduation in May.

"I am amazed at people's generosity and spirit," said Patricia Barrows, the academy's director of community relations who is helping to organize the fund. "It just restores your faith. Without exaggerating, this is the best Monday I have ever had."

One local businessman donated more than $5,000, saying he was moved by the student's determination.

Senior James Tanyi saved nearly all of his average $130 monthly stipend to try to fly his parents from Cameroon to Annapolis. His savings fell short, though, for the tickets which cost several thousand dollars a piece. His good friend, fellow physics major Jeff Greene, solicited pledge donations from classmates for a 92-mile unicycle ride and run from the academy to the Atlantic Ocean that began Saturday morning.

Late Saturday night, Greene, Tanyi and two other midshipmen made it to the ocean several hours ahead of schedule after running and riding in relay more than 20 miles apiece.

They raised more than $5,000 from their classmates and professors at the school; that money, combined with the $3,000 Tanyi saved, covers the cost of the trip. But they were astounded when people began calling in donations as well after reading about their efforts, and they now have raised more than $12,000 to add to Tanyi's savings.

Greene and Tanyi, who have been active since they were freshmen in community service projects -- especially in an effort that sends books to impoverished areas throughout the country -- have talked about what they should do with the extra money. They say they might start a fund for future students who can't afford to bring their parents to graduation.

An airport shuttle company called the academy yesterday to offer a free roundtrip from the airport for Tanyi's parents and brother, whom he hasn't seen in four years. Cycle Across America, a local bicycle group, pledged to raise $500 for Tanyi at their fundraiser this month called the Subaru Great Cookie Bike Rally.

Greene "is doing it on one wheel, and we ride on two wheels, but we really like the idea of supporting fellow cyclists," said group director John Herron.

Annapolis resident Mike Higham, who owns Lexus of Annapolis, called the academy to match the amount pledged by the students, donating more than $5,000.

"I just wanted to do something to help him," said Higham. "He scrapped and fought and accomplished his goals, and I was moved by it."

One Severna Park woman has invited the family to dinner.

Yesterday from his dorm room, Tanyi said he couldn't think of a way to adequately express to people how grateful he is.

"I am overwhelmed by the support people have shown us," Tanyi said. "I never expected this. I don't know what to say. I am one of the luckiest people living. I am so happy."

Tanyi and Greene will have to part ways shortly after graduation, when Greene, who like Tanyi is at the top of his class, heads off to submarine duty. Tanyi will return to Africa to serve six years in the Cameroon military -- most likely, he says, working a desk job.

One of Tanyi's physics professors called him one of the five brightest students he has ever worked with.

When executives from the nonprofit World Computer Exchange in Hull, Mass., which collects used computers to donate to poor countries around the world, heard Tanyi's story, they said they believe Tanyi might be underused when he returns home. The company hopes to work with Tanyi as a liaison to locate areas in need of computers.

Yesterday, the two friends were trying to recover from their journey.

"I'm feeling great," Tanyi said, "but whenever I sit down for five minutes and then try to walk, it is very painful. I will have to just keep walking."

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