UK receives record $100M gift

·3 min read

May 26—The University of Kentucky announced Thursday that it has received a $100 million gift to the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

The gift comes from the foundation of former trustee Carol Martin "Bill" Gatton, a Bremen native who made the donation through the Bill Gatton Foundation, making it not only the largest donation to the university in its nearly 160-year history but is also believed to be the largest donation to a college of agriculture in the United States.

To honor Gatton's parents, Edith Martin and Harry W. Gatton Sr., the college will be renamed as the Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

"This is a transformational gift that will have a profound impact on CAFE and the University of Kentucky," UK President Eli Capilouto said. "It will be a cornerstone in our efforts — and our singular mission — to advance Kentucky in everything that we do. Like Mr. Gatton did, we dream of a Kentucky tomorrow that is healthier, wealthier and wiser than it is today. This gift reflects his profound belief in this institution to be a partner for progress in our capacity and commitment to advance Kentucky."

According to a release from UK, Gatton's ties to agriculture trace back to his childhood on a farm in Muhlenberg County. From an early age, he developed a strong work ethic, selling roadside produce during summers and gradually expanding his sales and clientele. As a student, he began selling cars at a local dealership, a venture that later contributed significantly to his success.

Gatton, who died in April 2022, was a lifelong philanthropist and supporter of UK. He was a 1954 graduate of the university's College of Commerce. From there he found success as a businessman, entrepreneur and investor.

Gatton's gift to College of Agriculture, Food and Environment is the latest in a series of generous donations that have transformed the university, including record-breaking gifts to the Gatton College of Business and Economics, the university's Gatton Student Center and scholarships for students with unmet financial need through the UK LEADS initiative.

Gatton's impact on the University of Kentucky exceeds $180 million. He is the university's single largest donor.

Nancy Cox, UK vice president for land-grant engagement and UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment dean, expressed gratitude for the generosity of the Bill Gatton Foundation.

"Our college has served Kentucky and beyond for over 150 years with 'user-inspired science,' aiming to push boundaries in education and service," Cox said. "We are grateful for the confidence placed in us by the Gatton Foundation, which will allow us to both accelerate our land-grant mission and create new programs to serve our citizens."

Cox said the college will form a task force of faculty and staff members who will consider how the gift will be used to support the Gatton Foundation's vision for scholarships, academic programming, infrastructure and research.

Bill Gatton Foundation Trustee Danny Dunn said the gift is a testament to Gatton's unwavering belief in the transformative power of higher education.

"Mr. Gatton believed that investing in the University of Kentucky was investing in Kentucky's future," Dunn said. "This gift marks a significant milestone for the foundation, representing its first major donation since his passing. This gift symbolizes the foundation's commitment to honoring Mr. Gatton's passion for Kentucky and his desire to support its agricultural community as an essential way to advance this state."

{span}The UK Board of Trustees is expected to vote on the $100 million gift at its June meeting.{/span}