PULLMAN, Wash. — Like the husband in O’Henry’s famous story, “Gift of the Magi,” who parted with his prize watch to buy his wife a comb for Christmas, Don Zajac sold part of his vast collection of vintage metal lunch boxes to take his daughter Meggan Zajac on a month-long European tour last summer.

As a way of showing her appreciation, Meggan successfully nominated her father for Washington State University’s Dad of the Year. He was honored Nov. 2 at the annual Dad’s Weekend breakfast in the Compton Union Building.

Don Zajac, a single father, has been there for his daughter “all of my life and our relationship has really developed since I’ve been here at WSU…,” she wrote in support of her father, a baker at Costco in Tacoma.

He counseled his daughter when she began dating, and trusted her enough to let her determine her own curfew as long as she left a phone number where she could be reached when she was out. “He still knows what school projects I’m working on [at WSU], and when I have a test,” wrote Meggan, a junior in apparel, merchandising and textiles.

She praises her father for being a “good role model,” and for making sacrifices to finance her college education.

An avid antique collector, he visited thrift stores and garage sales for years to find metal lunch boxes from the 1950s and 1960s to add to his collection. Then, he spent most of last year selling off his collection of more than a thousand lunch boxes on eBay and at antique stores. With the money he received, he fulfilled a dream both he and his daughter had. They spent a month traveling in England, France, Italy and Greece, sharing the same quarters.

“It means a lot to me that he would sell his beloved lunch boxes,” she wrote, … “and most of all that he would pick me above anyone else to travel with.”

Meggan added that her father was only two when he lost contact with his own father. Growing up fatherless, he later vowed to be the best dad he could be. “He’s truly my best friend,” she said.

Other finalists for the award include William E. “Bill” Howell, WSU plant pathologist at the Prosser Irrigated Research and Agriculture Center in Prosser, and Tony P. Scoccolo, Renton, a King County paramedic. Howell was nominated by his children Andrea (’95), Erika (’99), Brock (’04) and Bryn (’05). Nicole Scoccolo, a WSU junior, nominated her father.