CHARLOTTE – Tracy Hamm recalls spreading the ashes of his late son, Tyler, on the mountaintops of Aspen, Colo., where the 20-year-old called his new home before a snowboarding accident ended his life.
“He lived for the outdoors,” Hamm said. “He lived for the Western sky.”
Tyler, who graduated from Ardrey Kell High School in 2016, pursued his passions of snowboarding and gourmet cooking at Lynn Britt Cabin in Aspen’s Snowmass Village before his death. He would have been 21 in April 2019, when the Hamm family announced their plan to award a $500 scholarship to a student in Central Piedmont Community College’s culinary arts program.
Since then, the Hamm family has chosen Holly Smith as the recipient of the award.
“We were looking for someone who shared that same passion that our son had,” Hamm said. “He was living his dream in both Alaska and Colorado. He just had this passion and this can-do attitude and this spirit of always asking himself what’s next. He was very driven.”
Hamm said while his son called Aspen his home, he had plans to eventually attend the culinary program at Central Piedmont.
When they interviewed Smith, Hamm saw a familiar gleam in her eyes as she spoke about her passion for baking, which she has pursued since she was eight years old.
“She lit up a room and spoke with such passion and conviction of where she saw herself in the future,” Hamm said. “All finalists were incredible and I don’t think we could have made a bad decision, no matter who we chose. Holly just struck us as someone who thinks big. The sky is her limit and she’s making a name for herself.”
Deziree Martin, who is the foundation coordinator for scholarships and related programs at the CPCC Foundation, said the college narrowed down candidates for the scholarship based on their requirements, financial need and Hamm’s requirements.
The Hamm family requested that the selected student was a North Carolina resident, at least a part-time student of the culinary arts program, employed and had graduated high school in the last five years. The college requires applicants to have at least a 2.5 grade-point average.
Martin said this year, a resort in Aspen has also supported the scholarship and will provide the recipient an opportunity to work at the resort as an intern in the busy seasons, just as Tyler did.
Martin said the scholarship goes beyond just covering tuition, books and fees.
“It opens up a way for students to have accessible education,” Martin said. “They’ll be able to utilize it to help pay for their education so that they can come here and get whatever credentials they need to be successful in the workforce upon completion of graduation.”
Hamm said he thinks Smith has a bright future ahead of her, the same way they thought of Tyler’s future. He said the two had very similar experiences and he hopes Smith remembers the namesake of the scholarship moving forward.
“We would love to see this scholarship catalyze a lifetime of growth for her, fuel that passion and help her be a better student, a better chef,” Hamm said. “I think she has a bright future ahead of herself.”
As Hamm, his wife and their 17-year-old son, Dylan, prepare for their first holiday season without Tyler, they take comfort in knowing they are making a tangible impact in his honor.
“We realize that this will be a year of firsts and it’s hard right now,” Hamm said. “We have to rely on each other and our faith and knowing that we’re helping Tyler build a legacy for young, culinary talent.”