TTU receives $4 million, largest single gift in history
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Larry Hester’s decision to “pay it forward” with a $4 million gift to Tennessee Tech University will benefit students and help save the lives of people he will likely never meet.
The largest single one-time gift commitment in the university’s history will fund an endowment to support students in TTU’s School of Nursing.
Hester’s gift reflects the wishes of his late wife, Jean Whitson Hester, who inspired the “pay it forward” concept in the spirit of her grandfather. Jere Whitson, who donated farmland on which the campus now sits, was one of the original founders of Dixie College, the church-based forerunner of Tennessee Tech University.
“My interest in higher education was part of my motivation, but more so was my wife’s desire to have the Whitson name remembered as part of the university,” said Hester.
“I wanted to honor Jean’s interest in health care because of her family’s previous concerns for matters of health,” he said. “She became very acquainted with doctors and nurses during her mother’s hospital stay and as she herself went into the hospital during the two and a half years she was ill.”
Hester says Jean did not simply live in her grandfather’s shadow; she established herself as a successful businesswoman who managed her father’s lumberyard and as an outstanding athlete who was well known as a scratch golfer. She also held a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University.
After Jean’s death in May 2008, Hester was faced with decisions about how her estate could be used to support students attending the university that holds such close ties to the Whitson family. Hester also worked at TTU for 12 years in the cooperative education program. He drew on his memories of how important people in his life valued education.
“I have always felt strongly about education,” he explained. “I went to a county school taught by the only [area] teacher who had a college degree and really took an interest in teaching me the importance of education. My mother and father—who like many in their generation did not complete high school—insisted that I work every summer to contribute funds for my education.”
The endowment includes three components: a scholarship based on academic achievement and financial need, a $1,000 merit award for academic achievement and an equipment renewal and modernization fund to help the School of Nursing maintain state-of-the-art training equipment.
The first scholarship recipients will be entering freshmen nursing majors, and Hester plans to see the endowment support as many as 16 full-time students at a time. These scholarships will provide assistance toward fees, tuition, books, lodging and meals each academic year.
“This gift is a testament to Mr. Hester’s love of education and support of Tennessee Tech University,” said TTU President Bob Bell. “He, his late wife and her family have a long tradition of helping our campus, our students and our programs grow and succeed. The TTU family is truly grateful for their generosity.”
In recognition of Hester’s and his late wife’s support, TTU will name its academic unit The Whitson-Hester School of Nursing pending Tennessee Board of Regents approval.
The gift commitment includes the donation of $1 million cash, a $200,000 gift-in-kind of real estate and an irrevocable trust from the estate valued at $2.8 million.
He expects the gift’s ripple effect will help improve the health care of people throughout the region, state and the world.
“This endowment will help the nursing program achieve its goals, maintain and improve undergraduate and graduate nursing education, and provide well-trained registered nurses to the work force,” said J. Mark Hutchins, TTU’s vice president for university advancement.