Gift of college funding inspires Arlington graduate to pay it forward

ARLINGTON — She was the first in her family to prepare for college, but she had no money set aside for the future.

Rikki Johnson graduated in 2004 as a valedictorian at Arlington High School.

“I had high aspirations and I knew I wanted to continue my studies,” she said. “Getting it done was another matter.”

A scholarship from the Arlington Dollars for Scholars program helped pay for her first year at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.

Now married and working as a certified public accountant for a Seattle firm, Rikki Johnson Tremblay, 26, is a proud sponsor of a scholarship awarded by Dollars for Scholars in her hometown. The scholarship goes specifically to an Arlington High senior who holds down a job.

In high school, Tremblay played in the school band, ran track and worked an after-school job. She worked while earning high grades during her first year at the university.

A chance meeting with a Boston bank executive and philanthropist during the summer after her freshman year changed Tremblay’s life. The hard-working student from rural Washington state must have made quite an impression on the executive, a woman named Clare Villari.

“She was inspirational to me, too, because of her work for charities,” Tremblay said. “Later that summer I was wondering how I was going to pay for the education I needed to earn my CPA, when I got a card in the mail from Clare. Inside was a check for $10,000.”

Over the next three years, the Boston patron contributed a total of $32,000 to Tremblay’s education. Tremblay then earned a hefty scholarship from the business school that paid for her fifth and final year at the UW.

“I left college debt free, with a fresh start ahead of me,” she said. “I couldn’t believe my great fortune.”

Philanthropy became her next life goal, Tremblay said.

“I wanted to pay it forward in honor of Clare and all the other people who helped me,” she said.

The Villari scholarship from the Arlington Dollars for Scholars paid $500 to its recipient the first year. This year, it’s worth $700.

“My goal is to increase the scholarship by $100 a year,” Tremblay said.

“It feels so good to do it. I get to sit on the selection committee and present the scholarship to its winner. That’s really rewarding.”

Dollars for Scholars volunteer Ruth Milner of Arlington said Tremblay has become a valued member of the scholarship committee.

“She comes home to help us with fundraisers and really works hard to give back to her community,” Milner said.

Tremblay hopes Arlington residents attend the Dollars for Scholars fundraiser Tuesday at Boston Pizza at the Lakewood Crossing mall.

Sandie Cooper, president of the Arlington chapter of Dollars for Scholars, said it’s been challenging during the economic recession to raise money to meet the needs of all the students who apply for scholarships.

In 2009, the program awarded 106 scholarships worth more than $100,000. But by 2011, there was only $50,000 to give away, Cooper said.

In October each year, Dollars for Scholars hosts its major fundraiser, a bingo event, which Tremblay always tries to help organize. Her husband is supportive of her efforts and together they plan a life focused on helping others, Tremblay said.

Her husband, Danny Tremblay, is on schedule to graduate from the University of Washington dental school in June.

“My husband is proud of me and the scholarship we give,” she said.

“We share a heart for helping others and someday I hope we can give even more.”

Eat and help

Boston Gourmet Pizza, 16918 Twin Lakes Ave., Marysville, plans to donate 10 percent of sales from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday to the Arlington chapter of Dollars for Scholars. For more information about the scholarship program, go to

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427;

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