Randy White is a man of faith, and not just in God, but in Western Carolina University, his alma mater. So much so, he and his wife, Kim Hunter, are putting up a $30,000 gift challenge for the “Whee Are One” fund to support WCU’s student-athletes — as long as 600 of his fellow Greek alumni contribute to the campaign by Nov. 20, the gift challenge deadline. The “Whee Are One” campaign continues until next June.
Why the gift?
White, a financial adviser, believes in lifting people up to create not only stronger communities, but a better world. So, he’s putting his money where his mouth is by issuing the Catamount Club Greek Challenge to members of his former fraternity, Sigma Chi, and other WCU Panhellenic groups to help plug the financial gap caused by COVID-19. The Greek Challenge allows alumni members of WCU sororities and fraternities to band together to raise scholarship support for Catamount Athletics. Now in its seventh consecutive year, the Greek Challenge has raised more than $3.5 million toward student-athlete scholarships.
And it’s especially important this year. The WCU Athletics program anticipates losing more than $1 million in revenue during the 2020-2021 school year because of the pandemic. Money raised during the “Whee Are One” fund is intended to provide “immediate-use funds” for expenditures associated with the cost to compete, practice and train during the 2020-2021 academic year, said Ryan Jones, associate athletics director/development and ticketing.
White, a member of the Catamount Club, is all in. WCU athletics were important to him as a student — he never missed a football game — because they kept him connected to campus, they were fun and they were free. He’s now in a position, he said, with his own two children grown, where he can get more involved in supporting the university and its student-athletes.
“As I have done better in my career and life, I believe it’s really important to give back. I think it’s very important that we talk to and mentor these kids, said White, who earned a finance degree in 1989 and an MBA in 1991. “We want to make sure they’re successful in playing here, but we also want to make sure they’re educated, because we’re all going pro in something. We want to make sure that the 99.99 percent who don’t go pro in football, basketball or whatever the sport have an excellent education and they’re able to have a successful career and build a family. That’s very important to me.”
Through his participation in his church’s mission work, White said he has seen first-hand how people’s lives can be changed or “re-booted” by someone lending a hand. “I have seen some college athletes who don’t focus on their education, play four seasons and go home to live in poverty,” said White. “I don’t want that to happen with the kids who play sports at WCU. That’s why I’m really focused on this issue.”
White’s fondness for his fellow Catamounts goes back to his own college days when he transferred to WCU from the University of Alaska Fairbanks after his freshman year, following his roommate who had been recruited to play tennis for the university. White’s family had moved to Alaska from California when he was 2 years old so his father could secure work on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which, once built, would transport oil from one end of the state to the other. He grew up in Copper Center, a small village of 300 to 400 residents who primarily were Athabaskan Indians. By the time college rolled around, White was tired of the cold.
“I have lived in the South pretty much for the rest of my life, so I equate myself as more of a Southerner than anything else at this point,” said White, who owns homes in Santa Rosa, California, Las Vegas and Bristol, Tennessee, locations where he and his wife maintain business offices.
White said he thrived at WCU, working as a resident adviser on the first floor of the south wing of Leatherwood Dorm and becoming a founding member of the university’s Sigma Chi chapter. The university’s impact on him, he said, was “enormous.”
“When I got to campus, I was just a kid. I knew nothing about anything,” he said. “I made a lot of good friends and connections. I learned what it was like to live in a different part of the country. Working with the professors and the school helped make me who I am today. Without my WCU education, I would be nothing.”
White credits two professors in particular for helping him succeed at WCU: the late economics professor Maurice Jones and retired finance professor Patrick Hays, with whom White still keeps in touch. “He probably had the biggest impact on me.”
White and his wife lived mostly in California for the last four years, until recently making Las Vegas their home base because it’s more centrally located. But no matter where he has lived, White has made time for Catamount football games. “Last year I was at all the home games. The year before that I think it was four games and the year before that I think it was three. I do my best,” he said.
But supporting WCU’s student-athletes means more than showing up for the games, White believes, and he’s wasted no time in rallying his old fraternity brothers to meet his Greek Challenge. He sees a bigger purpose in helping young people succeed, in showing them what it means to invest in their futures and to have confidence in their potential.
“I want to make sure the athletes at Western have that opportunity. I want them to play and I want their time and their experience in Cullowhee to be as great as mine were, so 20 years from now, they’re going to go back and say, ‘gosh, that’s such a special place. I’ve got to go back, I’ve got to visit, I’ve got to support financially, I’ve got to mentor kids,’” White said.
Jones sees the gift from White and Hunter as more than a financial commitment to the university. “Randy and Kim believe whole-heartedly in the charge, and their leadership generosity shows their shared passion and commitment that we have each day,” Jones said. “By supporting the ‘Whee Are One’ Fund, Randy and Kim are stepping up to do what they can to support our young people during this tough year, and we cannot be more appreciative of their philanthropy toward the effort. We are so thankful that they have chosen to use this philanthropy in a way that can encourage an already philanthropic base, in our fraternity-sorority alumni, to do what they can to help us get through this pandemic together.”
White may have spent his childhood in Alaska, but it was 4,000 miles away in the mountains of Western North Carolina that he learned about life. “I truly grew up at Western. The people that I met, the people in my fraternity, we all grew up together and we’re all still in touch and we have our own little reunions outside of Homecoming. It forever changed me and made me the man I am today.”