Emory & Henry receives $2M gift for equestrian expansion
Bill Gatton Foundation donation is lead gift for project
Emory & Henry College will use a $2 million donation from The Bill Gatton Foundation to help construct a new equestrian center and boost its equine studies program.
The private college, based in Emory, announced the donation Monday.
The Bristol, Tennessee, foundation’s lead gift for the project was to Emory & Henry’s Collective Connections Campaign, which has a $25 million goal, and is in memory of Carol Martin “Bill” Gatton. Gatton owned the Bill Gatton Automotive Group, which included dealerships across Alabama, Tennessee and Texas. He also chaired Area Bancshares of Owensboro, which became the largest bank holding company in Kentucky. When BB&T (now Truist Bank as the result of the 2019 merger between BB&T and SunTrust banks) bought it in 2002, the holding company had $3 billion in assets, according to The Lane Report. Gatton died in April 2022 at age 89.
“This gift signifies the kickoff to our campaign to expand our student services and engagement to the corners of Exit 26 on Interstate 81,” Emory & Henry President John W. Wells said in a statement. “We are honored to have the support of The Bill Gatton Foundation. Mr. Gatton was a true leader who helped develop the regions of Southwest Virginia and upper east Tennessee and improve the lives of all who live here.”
Gatton donated to several universities. In 1995, his multimillion-dollar gift to the University of Kentucky’s College of Business and Economics, his undergraduate alma mater, was the largest in its history. The university’s board of trustees then renamed the college the Gatton College of Business and Economics. He donated more than $70 million to UK over his lifetime, according to The Lane Report. Gatton also donated the lead gift for East Tennessee State University’s pharmacy college, and in 2007, ETSU named it the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy.
Emory & Henry’s new center will be near Exit 26 on I-81, adjacent to the campus, and the college will name the indoor riding arena The Bill Gatton Grand Arena. The new facility will include classrooms, offices, tack rooms, stalls, paddocks, parking and an outdoor arena.
When Virginia Intermont College closed in 2014, Emory & Henry adopted its equestrian program and renamed it Intermont Equestrian at Emory & Henry College. Currently located at Exit 10, it has more than 100 students enrolled. Emory & Henry created an equine-assisted therapy major in 2020, blending psychology and equine studies. In the fall 2021 and fall 2022 semesters, the riding program for first-year students, which is capped at 68 students, reached capacity, according to Jennifer Pearce, Emory & Henry’s vice president for enrollment management and external affairs. The college expects the new facility to allow its equestrian program to double in size.
“The students at Emory & Henry who are in this program are excellent students, and we feel this initiative will positively affect their educational pursuits and their future professional life,” Danny L. Dunn, a trustee of The Bill Gatton Foundation, said in a statement. “We also feel this initiative will impact economic development and attract solid talent to the region.”