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Gainesville trustees celebrate 50 years

Gainesville Trustees
Jimmy Faulkner, a former chairman of the Gainesville Campus' philanthropic foundation, talks about the history of the institution during a recent celebration.

Trustees of the former University of North Georgia Foundation – Gainesville, Inc. held a celebration to recognize those who helped establish the former Gainesville State College and trustees dedicated to serving the institution through its philanthropic foundation. The celebration, held in June, also celebrated the 50th anniversary of UNG's Gainesville Campus.

"The community leaders who established what began as Gainesville Junior College 50 years ago had the vision, skills and determination to accomplish something great. They believed in the power of higher education to enhance a community's quality of life, and we owe them a great debt," UNG President Bonita Jacobs told those gathered for the celebration. "I sincerely appreciate the loyalty and dedication of the current and former trustees whose support of the college has resulted in life-changing opportunities for its students. There are countless stories of talented students who were able to pursue their education only through the support of this foundation."

The Gainesville Campus was established as Gainesville Junior College in March 1964 after encouragement from the governor's office and the University System of Georgia to address an urgent need for higher education in the community. The founding group included James E. Mathis Sr., Loyd Strickland, Jesse Jewell, James A. Dunlap, Raymond Sweetenburg, Ralph Cleveland, A.D. Wright, Otis Cato, and Charles Propes. The campus welcomed its first students in 1966.

The June 19 Trustee Celebration marked milestones in the Gainesville-based philanthropic foundation's history, beginning with its establishment in 1968. Thanks to an ever-growing endowment, the foundation was able to continually expand the aid provided to students. In 1986, the foundation awarded 181 student scholarships totaling $104,124, but by 2010 had expanded that amount to $450,000 in scholarships awarded to 464 students.

Jacobs thanked current and former trustees and the institution's four presidents – Hugh Mills, Foster Watkins, Martha Nesbitt, and interim president Randy Pierce – for their hard work and told the audience that she wants to continue to build upon their successes.

"One of my priorities is to build on that momentum and increase the amount of scholarships we are able to award to students. I am very proud that this year, the two UNG Foundations, collectively, raised more than $1 million in support of student scholarships," she said. "As we begin this new era as the University of North Georgia, you can be assured that educational excellence and opportunity will remain our hallmark, and that our commitment to students is steadfast."

Jacobs also thanked Regent Philip Wilheit and wife Mary Hart Wilheit, who attended the celebration, for their support of the university and higher education. Philip Wilheit is current chairman of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.

Mary Cleveland
Pat Wehunt, standing, a former chair of the Gainesville
foundation, poses with Mary Cleveland, often called one of
the Gainesville Campus' "Founding Mothers."

Three former board chairmen discussed the history of the foundation and the institution, each sharing an overview of the presidents with whom they served. Jimmy Faulkner discussed the Mills era; Steve Gilliam discussed the Watkins era; and Rich White discussed the Nesbitt era.

Among the trustees recognized at the celebration was Mary Cleveland, wife of the late Ralph Cleveland. Called one of the Gainesville Campus' "Founding Mothers" by many, she hasn't missed an annual meeting of the college's foundation. She attended the June 19 celebration just a few days after celebrating her 100th birthday. The Clevelands' dedication to the school included contributing more than $200,000 for scholarships and science building improvements.

In 2005, Mary Cleveland was presented the Alumni Association's Distinguished Service Award for her unwavering support. In accepting the award, she recounted the historical community vote for the special educational bond on May 12, 1964, to establish then-Gainesville Junior College. 

"When I heard the news that the bond had passed, I said to Ralph, 'We won! We can have the college,'" Mary Cleveland said. "I have been for the college from the beginning and I always will be."

Effective July 1, the UNG Foundation – Gainesville, Inc. combined with the UNG Foundation – Dahlonega, Inc. to become the UNG Foundation, Inc., another important milestone in the consolidation process. The newly merged foundation has combined assets of $52 million and a mission focused on fundraising.

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