The Western Carolina University Foundation Board of Directors welcomed new members Mike Crawford, chief operating officer for the Asheville-based accounting firm Dixon Hughes Goodman, and Gayle Watkins, co-owner of a Highlands-based golden retriever training and kennel company, at its annual spring meeting.
Crawford and Watkins are filling vacancies on the board created by the departure of members Donna Winbon and Ann Summers, whose terms expire June 30.
Crawford, COO at Dixon Hughes Goodman since 2016, serves on the firm’s executive committee and previously was its regional managing partner for the Carolinas region. A 1987 graduate of WCU with a bachelor's degree in accounting and finance and a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, he joined DHG in 1989. Active in the Asheville community, he has served as a board member of the Western North Carolina Chapters of the American Red Cross and YMCA, and founded John 3:30 Ministries.
Joining the Foundation Board is the latest example of Crawford’s long history of involvement with his alma mater, having served previously on the Catamount Club and Alumni Association boards of directors. He was part of a group of partners at DHG who raised more than $1 million for WCU’s College of Business, which named its accountancy program after the firm in recognition of its contributions.
“WCU played such an important role in my life – education, friends for life, memories – so I want to help WCU be a ‘university destination of choice’ for high school students in all of Western North Carolina. In order to accomplish this goal, we must educate the members of the WNC community about all that WCU has to offer,” said Crawford, a frequent speaker in graduate-level accountancy classes and a judge representing WCU at the recent Southern Conference Entrepreneurial Challenge.
“I grew up in Sylva, and I am a fourth-generation Catamount dating back to my great-grandfather, W.R. Sherrill, who graduated in 1902,” he said. “I look forward to serving on the Foundation Board, and I will proudly do all I can to help advance the story of all that WCU has to offer our community.”
Watkins and husband Andy Chmar were Army officers who moved their golden retriever kennel business 17 times since its inception in 1979, settling in Highlands after retiring from the military in the early 2000s. Formerly a professor and associate dean at the U.S. Military Academy, she sits on the board of Cornell University’s Baker Institute for Animal Health and WCU’s Brinson Honors College Advisory Board, and hosts Brinson Honors College students, faculty and staff annually at her home in Highlands.
The couple became involved with WCU and its Honors College through Highlands residents, longtime WCU supporters and fellow golden retriever lovers Kathy and Mark Whitehead and Judy and Jack Brinson, Watkins said.
“We were eager to spend time with students. Both of us had taught at West Point and missed spending time with college students. We have since joined and now co-chaired the Honors College Advisory Board, and look forward to even more involvement with WCU,” she said.
“Education at all levels is essential to a healthy society, economy and community. WNC is no different than everywhere else in the country, and WCU provides an amazing education to undergraduate and graduate students,” Watkins said.
In other action during the April 22 meeting, outgoing members Winbon, who has been on the board since 2016 and served as its chair since 2020, and Summers, who joined the board in September 2020, received Foundation Board Medallions in recognition of their contributions to the Foundation and the university.
“This medallion was custom-designed by WCU alumnus Joel Queen, a ninth-generation potter and member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians,” Jamie T. Raynor, WCU vice chancellor for advancement, said during the presentation April 22. “Joel’s design represents, through Cherokee syllabary, the word ‘Cullowhee,” and honors the service of these two women on this special place. I’m sincerely grateful for Chair Donna Winbon’s leadership over the years and for the legacy she leaves for future WCU Foundation Board leaders.”
Winbon, a financial adviser who chaired the university’s successful “Lead the Way” comprehensive fundraising campaign that concluded in May 2019 after raising nearly $62 million in gifts and pledges, said she feels “blessed” to have been asked to serve and give back to her alma mater.
“In addition to learning about the student lives that have been touched, I have found that I am now better prepared to help my clients with their financial planning. I have a personal point of reference when I ask, 'What do you want to be remembered for? Where do you want your money to go?' It's all about finding people's passions and connecting their giving to those passions," she said.
“While I am rolling off the Foundation Board of Directors, I am hoping to stay connected in some fashion because of my experience in working on the last campaign,” Winbon said. “I also am interested in helping develop some kind of 'women in philanthropy' group at WCU. I am a firm believer that the women will outlive the men. They are going to have the wealth, and I think they will have a desire to give to places that touch their hearts."
In addition to the newly appointed members, five current WCU Foundation Board of Directors members were re-appointed to second terms. They are Doug Bailey, a 1993 graduate of WCU and vice president of Gopuff consumer good and food delivery company; Connie Haire, retired vice president of student and institutional development at Southwestern Community College who earned her master’s degree in education at WCU in 1984; Larry Naylor, a 1986 graduate of WCU who served in the military and currently is a corporate leadership trainer; Robin Pate, a 1997 graduate of WCU, chief marketing officer at Green Point Research; and Brandon Robinson, a Durham attorney who earned his bachelor's degree in 2005 and master’s degree in 2010, both from WCU in history.
In other action, the board elected three-time alumna Beth Lofquist to serve as its next Foundation Board of Directors chair and chair of its executive committee. A retired longtime WCU faculty member and academic administrator, Lofquist earned her bachelor’s degree in 1978, master’s degree in education in 1979 and educational specialist degree in 1988.
The board also appointed chairs and set membership rolls for four standing committees. New members Pate and Robinson will chair the board development committee and the support organization oversight committee, respectively.
John Davis, a 1987 graduate of WCU and senior vice president of global sales and marketing for CryoLife Inc. in Kennesaw, Georgia, will chair the advancement committee and Dennis Fox, a 1971 graduate of WCU and senior vice president of market development for General Parts Inc. in Raleigh, will chair the finance and audit committee.
The Western Carolina University Foundation promotes higher education and supports the enhancement of the university. The foundation’s goal is to aid and assist WCU in its development as a leading educational institution through the investment and stewardship of philanthropy.