By Bill Studenc
Western Carolina University alumnus Randy White and spouse Kim Hunter have been named to co-chair the recently announced comprehensive “Fill the Western Sky” campaign, an effort to raise a minimum of $75 million in philanthropic support for the university’s academic, student engagement and athletics programs.
Longtime supporters of WCU, White and Hunter also are helping the fundraising campaign in another big way. Earlier this year, they made gifts and pledges totaling $325,000, with $250,000 to go toward athletics facilities improvements and $75,000 for the Catamount Club in support of scholarships for student-athletes.
White, who graduated from WCU with a bachelor’s degree in finance in 1989 and a master’s degree in business administration in 1991, said he is eager to take a leadership role in the campaign by serving as co-chair of its steering committee and making his own philanthropic contributions to the effort.
“When the chancellor asked me to co-chair this committee, I didn’t even hesitate in giving her an answer,” said White, who serves as managing director at Hunter and White Private Wealth Group of Wells Fargo Advisors along with his wife in Santa Rosa, California.
“I wanted to be at the forefront of the group for the university to better balance our athletics program to our already robust academic offerings. Athletics, when run successfully, can create a major infusion of loyalty and philanthropy from alumni and can be a contributor to the bottom line of the university,” he said. “We have the current leadership at the executive level of the university who understand this, so the time to move forward is now.”
Although White’s wife is not an alumna of WCU, Hunter said she feels she has been adopted as a member of the university family. “WCU is a place that has welcomed me with open arms. When I married Randy, I knew he was a Catamount. But, I quickly learned exactly how committed to Western Carolina he is,” Hunter said.
“Randy really wants to see WCU become a true gem in the academic and athletic world. Together, we want to ensure that everyone who wants a top-notch education will have the financial resources and the opportunity to be able to attend Western,” she said.
Chancellor Kelli R. Brown said the work of White, Hunter and the rest of the steering committee will be integral to the success of the campaign, which is expected to continue through the 2025-2026 academic year.
“The ‘Fill the Western Sky’ campaign will help garner the additional resources necessary to enable us to achieve the next milestones in propelling the progress of this institution founded in 1889. Achieving our ambitious goal requires the participation and generosity of all members of the Western Carolina family,” Brown said.
“I am so pleased that Randy and Kim have said ‘yes’ to my invitation to serve as co-leaders of this important initiative. Over the years, they have been generous with their time, talent and treasure, and their dedication and love for this university are just what we need,” she said.
Teddy Phillips Jr., CEO of Phillips and Jordan construction company, and spouse Christy Phillips are also co-chairing the campaign steering committee.
White said he became an ardent supporter of Catamount sports during his years as a student, recalling attending the dedication of the Ramsey Regional Activity Center in 1986 as part of a standing-room-only crowd that watched the men’s basketball team take on Coach Jim Valvano’s N.C. State University Wolfpack. He began his financial support for athletics at his alma mater about 15 years ago.
“I’m motivated to help the Catamount athletics program because it is an underutilized gem of the university,” he said. “There are many students who are able to use their athletic talents to open the door to an excellent university-level education. We want to be able to expand these opportunities for young men and women as part of our mission to educate the young minds of our time. I’m also very interested in improving our athletics programs, knowing that the more success we have in athletics, the more opportunities we will have to compete for top students and top athletes.”
Through the “Fill the Western Sky” campaign, the university aims to secure philanthropic gifts to support upgrades to athletics facilities, which is a key priority of the fundraising effort.
In addition to improving athletics facilities, the “Fill the Western Sky” campaign is seeking financial support for undergraduate and faculty research, state-of-the-art classroom and laboratory facilities, outdoor classroom space, study-abroad and study-away opportunities, and departmental and college initiatives.
Campaign priorities regarding engagement are designed to provide additional resources for student internships, mental health and counseling, service-learning opportunities, clinical experiences and student life programs including emergency funds to assist students at times of crisis.
While WCU’s two previous comprehensive fundraising campaigns focused on obtaining financial support for endowed professorships to attract and retain top-notch faculty and endowed scholarships to recruit and retain students, the current campaign is the first in the university’s history with a major emphasis on athletics.
“Supporting the athletics program’s facilities is top on my to-do list,” said White, a Catamount Club member who also serves on the WCU Foundation Board of Directors. “Our facilities are very inadequate. I have toured the facilities for all men’s and women’s sports, and it brought tears to my eyes. WCU is a place that I absolutely love. I want the best experience for all students, and I know we can do better for student-athletes.”
Hunter echoed her husband’s sentiments. “The student-athletes in Cullowhee are also important. We know that excellence in athletics will bring the alumni to life, stoking the Catamount pride. We need to improve the athletics facilities so we can recruit top-notch athletes,” she said. “The more successful we are with athletics, the more success we will have in expanding the academic offerings. I ask others to join us in supporting this fantastic university and creating a fantastic Catamount experience for generations to come.”
Residents of Las Vegas, White and Hunter previously issued a $30,000 gift challenge for the “Whee Are One” fund to support WCU’s student-athletes as part of the Greek Challenge in 2020. That year’s fundraising effort for athletics was designed to help plug the financial gap in the athletics program budget that resulted from the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the priorities of the current fundraising campaign are expansions for strength and conditioning, sports medicine and academic space for student-athletes. Updates to E.J. Whitmire Stadium will include a new press box, premium space for fans, a rebuilt east concourse, football offices and meeting space, and a new football locker room. The Catamounts will look to vacate Camp Lab Gymnasium and open a new facility to support the golf, track and field, and women’s soccer programs. Other improvements are in the master plan as well and will benefit all 16 Catamount athletics teams.
“We have the opportunity to move our athletics programs into the 21st century and the top tier of Division 1. These investments in the university will allow us to recruit and retain top athletic talent,” White said. “This will enable us to compete for Southern Conference championships and even national championships. Athletic success leads to even more academic success as these two sides of the university activity column go hand-in-hand.”
White said he is optimistic that the 80,000-plus alumni of WCU will rise to the challenge and help the university exceed its campaign goals.
“For years, our alumni base has been a sleeping giant, but I have seen this change in recent years. Many alumni have told me they weren’t aware of the need or they have never been asked to give. Consider this your formal invitation. The power of the Catamount collective can be absolutely mind-boggling. There is absolutely nothing that we cannot achieve when we put our minds and our Catamount hearts together to give and to work on behalf of our dear WCU,” he said.
“As co-chair of this comprehensive campaign, I’m helping steer this boat into the future. I have 80,000 empty seats, and I want everyone affiliated with WCU to jump into the boat and help us overwhelmingly exceed our philanthropic goal,” White said. “What we do in this campaign will benefit many generations of students. In our quest to make our communities and our world a better place, I would like to remind everyone that this change starts with one person. Be that one person.”
For more information or to make a contribution to the “Fill the Western Sky” campaign, visit WesternSky.wcu.edu, call 828-227-7124 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.