One of Mark Schuster’s (’95) formative memories was sitting in the packed stands at Martin Stadium with his family, watching his older brother, Mike, an offensive tackle for WSU, play in the 1982 Apple Cup. When WSU beat the arch-rival Huskies 24-20, young Mark thrilled to the sight of the mass of Cougars running onto the field, taking down and carrying off the goalposts.
“That’s when I knew I wanted to be a Cougar,” Schuster said.
Several years later, Mark ran out onto that field as a player himself, thrilling again to sound and sight of the Martin Stadium crowd—and this time they were cheering for him, and his teammates.
“That moment the energy and spirit of the Cougars filled me,” Schuster said. “That’s what I love so much about WSU—I want to always be part of it. It’s what drives me today.”
Unfortunately, Schuster suffered knee injuries that ended his playing career. But Coach Mike Price and WSU continued to honor his football scholarship.
“That’s when I understood what it meant to be a Coug—Cougs look out for each other.”
Schuster’s loyalty and pride have carried forward in countless ways since then—just have a look at his one-of-a-kind “Coug Cave” of memorabilia (pictured above).
But his biggest impact on WSU has been through his mastery of the art of giving back—through creative interpretations of what it means to give.
“Giving Doesn’t Have to Be Some Grand Gesture”
As an undergraduate, majoring in business, Schuster excelled in his courses and volunteered at the local YMCA with their Big Buddy program; by his senior year, he oversaw the program’s finances.
“I realized I was giving back in my own way—with my time and skills. And I loved it. You know, giving doesn’t have to be some grand gesture or writing a check.”
After graduating, Schuster moved back to his hometown of Richland, accepting a job as a manager at Lamb Weston, a global leader in the frozen potato industry. That fall he joined the local Cougar Club, and in 1997—the year WSU went to the Rose Bowl—he organized a Tri-Cities Cougar tailgate party, working to develop relationships with local media and businesses to sponsor the tailgate and contribute to fundraising. Schuster also arranged for coaches to come speak to participants.
This tailgate evolved into an annual fundraising event that included an auction Schuster organized, to which he often donated Cougar memorabilia he had come across in his constant search for Coug-fandom items. The tailgate grew from 70 to 450 participants, and over 20 years raised $750,000 for WSU scholarships.
Much like his volunteer efforts with the YMCA, “it was all about the time I could give and the skills I could offer.”
Schuster’s continual quest for Cougar memorabilia led to his discovery of a treasure trove of keepsakes in a storage unit—which turned out to belong to retired WSU coach George Raveling. After learning that Raveling had not intended to let go of these items, Schuster flew to Los Angeles to personally return them to the legendary coach. (Read the full story in the Summer 2023 edition of WSU Magazine.)
Commissioning “Quarterback U,” Raising $125,000
Schuster has also come up with innovative ways to raise money for WSU. In 2005, after seeing the pen and ink drawings of artist Chris Walster, he got an idea: What if Walster created a drawing of WSU’s six greatest quarterbacks—Jack Thompson, Mark Rypien, Timm Rosenbach, Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf, and Jason Gesser—and what if a limited edition of archival prints was made available for sale on the WSU website? After much effort, Schuster made it happen.
Walster completed the drawing— Quarterback U (pictured below)—which he hand-colored and signed, then Schuster had 315 limited edition prints made. Next came a task that Schuster described as “more daunting but the most fun”—tracking down each of the quarterbacks so they could sign each print. “Those prints traveled thousands of miles,” he said.
Schuster’s three older brothers also contributed their time and money to the project, and they together decided that every cent of the proceeds, nearly $125,000, would go to the Schuster Family Scholarship Endowment they created for athletes.
Schuster has also contributed through his professional expertise. As VP of global manufacturing at Lamb Weston, where he has risen through the ranks since 1995, he was contacted by Carson College of Business (CCB) when its leaders identified a need for a course for business majors who were not finance specialists but needed a better understanding of finance principles. Schuster collaborated with finance and business experts and CCB faculty to develop the course. He even assigned one of his employees to take the course and critique it, tweaking the syllabus as needed.
Through Lamb Weston, headquartered in Kennewick, Schuster also continues to develop strong relationships with WSU Tri-Cities, as when he and his company partnered with the campus to establish the Cougar Cupboard food pantry.
“Lamb Weston is a food company, and we wanted to address student food insecurity—a problem more widely experienced by students than many people realize,” said Schuster.
Perhaps one of his biggest time commitments has been his leadership role as president of the WSU Alumni Association. Over the past five years, he has not only given innumerable hours helping WSUAA amplify the engagement of Coug alumni across the world, he has also spent countless hours mentoring WSUAA volunteers—truly a trusted mentor of both board members and volunteers.
“After my family, the Coug community has my heart,” Schuster said.
“Those years when Coach Price stood by me, and my profs and those at the YMCA wanted me to succeed—that’s where it all started for me. Now it’s my turn to pay it forward, to be a part of Cougs helping Cougs.”