For Sailing Club, parents’ gift makes a splash

It’s perhaps no surprise that Pieter and Yvette Eenkema van Dijk, parents to son Maarten, Class of 2014, decided in December to make Northeastern history, with a standout gift to the Sailing Club. The couple, born in the Netherlands, joke that all Dutch children swim, skate, and sail—after all, they’re surrounded by water. And sailing is their son’s grand passion.

Maarten, a civil engineering major and the club’s co-captain, has been sailing since he was eight. “He’d take his lunchbox and lifejacket, and off he’d go,” his mother recalled. “Summers out on the water were fun, and sailing taught him responsibility and organization.”

But even Maarten was startled when, in December, his parents told him they would pledge a gift to the club—enough to generate a coach’s salary in perpetuity.

To his parents, who had often hosted traveling team members at their home in Darien, Conn., the gift made perfect sense. “The thought came when we saw how great these kids were—so smart, polite, funny, and so dedicated,” Pieter said.
“Watching them from the docks, we could see how very skilled they were. But they were up against professionally coached teams, and that was a real drawback.

“We wanted to have a lasting effect—to help not only these outstanding sailors, but future generations,” Pieter said.

Added Yvette: “Sailing requires discipline and strategy—reading the course, the elements, and, of course, your competitors.” It’s a sport, she feels, in which a university of Northeastern’s caliber should excel, especially given its proximity to the Charles River and its superb facilities, which are leased from MIT.

With his fellow sailors, Maarten began strategizing two years ago about ways to identify potential funding sources. Meanwhile, their student-run club was starting to get noticed by big varsity-level teams backed by schools like MIT, Boston University, and Yale. To fill their need for high-level instruction, then-coach-adviser Matthew Largess was pulling in professional coaches at practices. Among them was veteran Olympics coach Jonathan Farrar, whom the students hired in January 2013.

The $750,000 gift to the club is the largest from non-alumni parents since the university’s founding, and the first to endow a club sport.