Auburn University honors Delta Air Lines, Rowdy Gaines at 29th annual International Quality of Life Awards

Article body

Auburn University’s College of Human Sciences recognized one of the world’s largest and oldest U.S. airlines in operation, Delta Air Lines, Inc., and three-time Olympic gold medalist and Auburn University graduate Ambrose “Rowdy” Gaines IV at the 29th annual International Quality of Life Awards at the Charleston Gaillard Center on Dec. 5.

The International Quality of Life Awards, or IQLA, proudly honors people and partnerships who have made significant and lasting contributions to individual, family and community well-being locally and around the world. The College of Human Sciences recognized Delta and Gaines for demonstrating a true concern for the human condition through their work to enhance quality of life for all.

“From opening doors in education to fighting disease to building homes and more, both honorees are leading by example and inspiring others to take a big picture approach to life,” said College of Human Sciences Dean Susan Hubbard. “Rowdy Gaines is a world-renowned individual, and Delta is a top-tier fortune 500 company, yet they each keep a sense of community, helping their fellow man at the heart of their work.”

Dean Crowe, founder and CEO of the Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research, presented the IQLA Laureate Award to Kurt Ford, managing director of flight operations business strategy and technology for Delta and a graduate of Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business, where he received his MBA in 2005. Ford accepted the award on behalf of Delta for the company’s worldwide community engagement through millions of dollars donated and 800,000 volunteer hours donated yearly from Delta employees.

Delta’s widespread community engagement includes helping communities recover from disasters, building homes with Habitat for Humanity, to finding cures and treatments through the Rally Foundation, Children’s Miracle Network, American Cancer Society and American Red Cross to supporting our nation’s military families through Toys for Tots and the Fisher House. Students all over the world, as young as middle school, are engaging in experiential learning through Delta-supported educational efforts such as Junior Achievement USA and the National Flight Academy.

Delta’s philanthropic footprint and current relationship with Auburn University continues to expand. Recently, the College of Human Sciences, in partnership with the College of Liberal Arts’ School of Aviation, added a certificate in Aviation Hospitality Management with a focus on excellence in service.

During his 17 years with Delta, Ford has served in several leadership roles in financial planning, fleet strategy and overseeing Delta’s Transatlantic and Transpacific markets.

“Delta Air Lines is honored to accept the 2022 Laureate Award,” Ford said. “Our mission is to connect the world by creating opportunities, fostering understanding and expanding horizons by connecting people and communities to each other to their potential. As a company to provide purpose, we give back to our communities and it’s been at the core of Delta Air Lines for nearly 100 years. At Delta, we believe our civic obligation is to give back to the communities where we live, where we work and where we serve.”

Rob Butcher, CEO of Swim Across America, a nonprofit dedicated to raising money and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment, presented the IQLA Lifetime Achievement Award to Gaines. Gaines was honored for his outstanding success in the swimming world and for generously using his platform to end childhood drownings through swimming lessons and in supporting numerous charities.

At Auburn, Gaines became a five-time NCAA champion and was expected to sweep the sprinting swimming events at the 1980 Olympic Summer Games. America’s boycott of the Games ended those hopes and dashed the dreams of many. After a brief retirement, Gaines began training again and ultimately won three gold medals in the 1984 Olympic Summer Games, more than any other swimmer that year.

Gaines’ story of perseverance stretches into the early 1990s when he fought back from a debilitating autoimmune disease and again finished first in multiple swimming events in the World Masters Championship.

A member of both the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and the International Swimming Hall of Fame, Gaines works with many charitable organizations that include Swim Across America and the USA Swimming Foundation and serves as vice president of Partnerships & Development for the Pools and Hot Tubs Alliance. The primary focus of his community engagement, often involving free swimming clinics, is to teach children to swim and understand that anything is possible with commitment and determination.

“Drowning is an epidemic in our country, and it breaks my heart when I read that a child drowned because I know how unnecessary it is," Gaines said. “Rob talked about swimming lessons, and we found a cure. The cure to drowning is to have your child take swimming lessons. I get a Google alert every time a child drowns. I get five or six a day, and I want to be reminded that my job is to never stop until we figure out a way to get that message to that community that we can cure drowning by putting your child in swim lessons.”

During his acceptance speech, the three-time gold medalist was visibly touched receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award and made it clear he has a special place in his heart for Auburn University.

“I know in our lives we talk about peaks and valleys, but I never had any valleys at Auburn,” Gaines said. “All my time at Auburn were nothing but peaks, joy, nothing but love because we’re a family.”

A select group of College of Human Sciences students attended the awards gala as CHS ambassadors as part of the IQLA Study Tour. The tour is an educational enrichment opportunity in which students experience the art, design, food, families and culture of the vibrant Charleston coast through venue visits. While in Charleston, students toured historic homes, explored City Market, visited the Dance Conservatory of Charleston, went on a historic Charleston carriage tour and more.

“Going to the Charleston Dance Conservatory, that was really great because I’m in human development and family science, and that’s similar because they are providing the community with help and assistance and it’s just really wonderful,” said senior Lily Annino. “They teach special needs kids how to dance, and I want to be a therapist, so it’s just really great seeing how they’re giving back to the community. I really enjoyed that.”

“We applaud all the International Quality of Life Awards represent,” said Auburn Board of Trustee member Mike DeMaioribus in welcoming the crowd. “Significant, profound contributions toward the well-being of others. Dean Hubbard, thank you for hosting this long-standing tradition in the College of Human Sciences, emphasizing how together, we can change lives for the better.”

For more information about the International Quality of Life Awards, visit

Related Media

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.