Despite graduating from Saint Mary’s more than 30 years ago, Dr. Thomas Rice has found a way to stay heavily involved with the university. Dr. Rice graduated from SMU in 1982 — along with his wife, Eileen (Long) — with a degree in Biology. He went on to graduate from the University of Minnesota Medical School and did his residency in ophthalmology at the U of M. Dr. Rice joined the St. Paul Eye Clinic in 1993 and currently serves as its president. He and Eileen have four sons, one daughter and two grandchildren. Their daughter, Madeline, is currently a junior majoring in Elementary Education at SMU.
Tell us about how you ended up at SMU.
I grew up in St. Cloud, Minn. and graduated from Cathedral High School in 1978. I played football, hockey and ran track while in high school. I started at SMU (it was SMC back then) in 1978. Including myself, I have five family members who graduated from SMU — my father graduated in 1952, my brother Steve in ’79, my sisters Cathy in ’84 and Patty in ’85.
What things were you involved in at Saint Mary’s?
I was fortunate to play hockey for four years and was captain of the team my junior and senior years. My junior year, we made it to the national tournament. The years I played at SMU, our home rink was in Rochester. Daily we would make the bus trip to Rochester to practice. In January of my senior year, the school purchased a “bubble” to go over the outdoor rink and I remember having to climb on top to shovel off the snow! The bus trips to Rochester taught me to use my free time very efficiently. This went on to serve me well while in medical school. While at SMU, I was involved in many different activities including: being a member of APO fraternity; singing in Blue Angel and Gaslight; being an RA in Ed’s and Benilde; being a member of the Oldie Moldie All Stars (back then our “oldies” were 50’s and 60’s songs) and I participated in intramural sports.
How did your experience at SMU help prepare you for your career and life?
My time at SMU was very instrumental in forming who I am today. The friendships I made during my four years are still as strong today as they were when we were in Winona over 30 years ago. I still have a core group of about 10 guys from SMU that still get together a couple of times a year and act like college kids. The bond we created long ago, I believe, was due to our living and learning environment at SMU. Although many of the professors are no longer teaching, they had a large impact on who I am today. They were student advocates and readily available. For example, Dr. Richard Kowles was a huge influence on me. He helped me succeed as a student and as an athlete. Had he not supported my desire to be a student-athlete, participating in varsity athletics would have been impossible for a pre-med student.
You have always been very supportive of Cardinal athletics over the years. Why do you think it is important to stay involved and give back?
I have always believed in giving back to a community. I have served on the SMU Alumni Board. I’ve been involved with the Cardinal ‘M’ Club with both my time and financial support. The Cardinal ‘M’ Club is the perfect opportunity to support Saint Mary’s athletics and a great time to reconnect with your fellow athletes and teammates. My time at SMU as a student-athlete has helped shape me into the person I am today. I may not have realized this in 1982, but it is apparent now. With the support from alumni, the rich tradition of collegiate sports and student-athletes can continue. I challenge every past student-athlete to give back to his or her sport. I have designated my donations to directly benefit the hockey team. Any amount of financial support helps keep the tradition alive and benefits current student-athletes.
Any advice to current student-athletes?
My advice is to work hard first as a student, then as an athlete and to really enjoy your time on campus. Being a successful collegiate student-athlete will really help as you leave campus and transition into the work world.