Fulfilling a legacy

 Vriheas FamilyCecelia Vriheas, second from left, and Michael Vriheas, far right, and their children, including Amy Nichols, fourth from left

The word philanthropy is Greek in origin. It means friend of humanity. The concept of giving to others —and a Greek identity — run deep for Cecelia Vriheas.

“We didn’t grow up with much. We were the only Greek family in a small town in Washington state,” Vriheas said. “My mother was always very generous in whatever we had. We shared. It’s just part of our culture.”

When she married Michael Vriheas and raised four children in San Francisco, the financial struggles continued. But they made sure that each child earned a college degree.

“My husband used to say, ‘We’re not going on vacation until we have six months of house payments saved up,’” Vriheas said. “We took our first vacation 22 years later after we were done paying the kids’ tuition.”

The oldest of those Vriheas children is Amy Nichols, a clinical professor at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis. She remembers the tight budget, but also the generous support from her parents.

“I wanted Mom to buy us Wonder bread. But she said she could make five loaves from scratch with what a loaf in the store cost,” Nichols joked. “My dad always told us, ‘I don’t care what you do when you grow up, but you’ll all go to college and get a degree.’”

Nichols was the first and chose nursing as her profession. Four decades later, she serves as director of clinical simulation at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis. Her father eventually built a successful real estate development business before his passing in 2016. Her mother now paves the way for future entry-level nursing students to achieve their dreams, too.

The Michael Vriheas Family Nursing Scholarship joins the 48 other endowed scholarships at the School of Nursing that provide financial support and an emotional boost to students wanting to make health care better.

“I chose to invest in the school because we’re in the position now to help. I want to make it easier for future nursing students to just concentrate on school and not worry about where they’ll find the money for it,” Vriheas said. “I hope the students we help can make a contribution to society and make it better, like Amy is doing.”

Vriheas added that her late husband would be proud of his legacy.

“He would love to know this, because we struggled to get four kids through college. It was a hard thing to do, but he was very much aware of how important an education was,” she said.

“My dad’s legacy is always going to be there to help someone who needs support to fulfill their dream,” Nichols said.

Ultimately, Vriheas hopes that the gift a future nurse receives from her will instill such gratitude in a School of Nursing student, that they will remember when they are in a position to give back.

“When you grow up without, you value what you get even more,” she said. “I want them to know when they can return the favor, just pay it forward to someone else.”