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Don Diego expands scholarship program

DEL MAR — The Don Diego Scholarship Foundation has awarded $600,000 to 139 college-bound students from San Diego County during the past 27 years. 

“It’s impossible to make the choices,” Chairman Paul Ecke III said during the March 13 board of directors meeting of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which manages the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

“We usually get about 15 applicants and they’re all great, but we have to pick four,” he said. “And there’s always one that rises to the top.”

Hoping to award that standout student, the foundation is expanding its program by adding the Spanjian Family Scholarship.

Robert Spanjian is a former 22nd DAA board member who currently serves on the Don Diego Scholarship Foundation. He and his brother patented Spandex.

Four high school seniors currently are selected to each receive a $5,000 scholarship. Applicants must be a 4-H member, Future Farmers of America member, fairgrounds employee or fair exhibitor. One scholarship is awarded in each category.

Ecke said the foundation is trying to raise extra money to award a $10,000 scholarship to the exemplary student.

He said more than half of the necessary funds have been secured. In addition to donations, he said the foundation is also looking to find people with “connections” who could help out, such as Sara Blakely, creator of Spanx, a company that likely wouldn’t be where it is today without Spandex.

The Don Diego Scholarship Trust Fund, as it was originally known, was created in 1986 as a tribute to Tom Hernandez, who, in the role of Don Diego, was the host of the San Diego County Fair from 1947 until his death in 1984.

Funds are raised from an annual gala, donations and the Amigo Club, which offers one year of free entrance to all events sponsored by the 22nd DAA and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club for $99.

Scholarship applications for students are now available at

More information is also available at that website.