FSU Foundation

TUFF gift provides support to FSU students of Gold Star families

A studio photo of John Wirka next to his wife Erica who is holding their newborn daughter Audrey

John Wirka with his wife Erica and daughter Audrey.

“TUFF” speaks to the resilience and fortitude of those who have lost a loved one in the line of duty, and it is the pulse of an organization and its recent gift to Florida State.

The United for the Fallen—or TUFF—was founded to honor the memory of Warrant Officer John Wirka Jr. and on a commitment to support children and families who have lost a parent or loved one in the line of duty. Today, they extend this commitment to FSU students dealing with losing a beloved service member.

Wirka, a 2008 graduate who majored in mechanical engineering, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2010 and was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group. He was deployed multiple times to support the U.S. Southern and Northern Command and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Wirka’s awards and decorations are extensive, including two Bronze Stars.

“When John passed, we were overcome with messages from people wondering what they could do to help,” said TUFF President Steve Savor. “So, we came up with TUFF.”

From its inception in 2021, the nonprofit knew it would create a scholarship to honor Wirka, Savor explained. Today they are thrilled to see the W01 John Wirka Jr. Memorial Fund come to fruition.

This endowed gift will provide FSU students who are Gold Star family members with financial support, “empowering the pursuit of their goals and honoring the sacrifice and memory of their loved one,” said William Francis, director of FSU’s Student Veterans Center.

In honoring the life and service of Wirka, TUFF has taken action that really demonstrates being “thankful for your service,’’ Francis said.

During his time at Florida State, Wirka was a member of the FSU Ice Hockey Club, serving as vice president for four of his five years on the team, and helped lead them to their first-ever Thrasher Cup.

In 2021, Florida State Ice Hockey Alumni presented the inaugural John Wirka Memorial Award honoring a graduating senior or graduate student who embodies the qualities Wirka stood for—leadership, commitment and sacrifice to the team.

“John was one of those teammates you don’t forget,” Savor said, recalling meeting Wirka his freshman year. “His leadership and sacrifice were commendable. He was always the guy you could count on.”

Wirka is survived by his wife Erica and their daughter Audrey, also founders of TUFF.

Savor said this gift allows TUFF to support Gold Star members through education. “It’s important that we invest in the future of America, honor John and honor our country.”

Florida State provides various veteran support and success initiatives for students. To learn more, visit veterans.fsu.edu.