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Rollins Foundation gives $22 million to Young Harris College

By Maria Saporta
Friday, March 30, 2012

As a testament to its longtime support of Young Harris College, the O. Wayne Rollins Foundation is giving a $22 million gift as part of the institution’s $55 million capital campaign.

The ties between the Rollins family and the school are deep. Pam Rollins, the granddaughter of Wayne Rollins, has served on the Young Harris board for 20 years, and she is chairing the capital campaign. To date, Young Harris has raised $46 million toward its goal.

“Having Pam’s leadership has transformed the whole capital campaign,” said Cathy Cox, president of Young Harris College since 2007. “The Rollins Foundation has put a gold stamp of approval on this campaign. This puts us in a new league. Very few colleges of our size ever get a gift of this magnitude.”

The largest foundation gift in the history of the college was announced at the official campaign kick-off event March 29 at the Piedmont Driving Club.

The Rollins gift will go toward building a new focal point for Young Harris — the $44 million, 125,000-square-foot Rollins Campus Center that will house the student center; a new library to be named for former U.S. Sen. and Georgia Gov. Zell Miller, and his wife, Shirley; a larger dining hall; and a 350-seat banquet facility.

It is all part of Young Harris’ recent transformation from a two-year college to a four-year college, and its dramatic growth in the past five years. It received its accreditation as a four-year college in December 2008 and offered its first junior class in the fall of 2009.

Since 2007, student enrollment has gone from about 600 students to nearly 900; and the school has doubled its faculty — from 35 to 70. Eventually, Cox said, Young Harris would like to increase its student enrollment to 1,200.

Cox, former Georgia secretary of state and a former gubernatorial candidate, said Young Harris, founded in 1886 by a Methodist minister, has been preparing for its growth in enrollment and academic offerings by finishing $43 million in new construction with another $8 million under construction.

Young Harris recently opened a 200-bed residence hall, a new recreation and fitness center, a 12-court tennis complex and a new apartment-style residential community for upperclassmen.

Pam Rollins said she agreed to chair the campaign because “I feel it’s essential to what we are trying to do on campus in going from a two-year to a four-year college.”

In many ways she’s continuing the tradition that was set by her grandfather.

In 1930, Wayne Rollins had planned to attend Young Harris, where his uncle had gone to school. Instead, he was stricken with appendicitis; and a hail storm damaged the family’s farm, and he did not have the money to go to Young Harris.

But he and his wife, Grace, were married that year in the campus chapel by his uncle, Frank Rollins, who was the minister at Young Harris.

Wayne Rollins then embarked on his business career and moved to Delaware. He and his brother, John Rollins, founded Rollins Broadcasting Inc., that acquired radio and television stations as well as an outdoor advertising business.

In 1964, Wayne Rollins made a successful play to acquire Orkin Exterminating Co. for $62.4 million in what is believed to have been the first leveraged buyout in history. The name of the company was changed to Rollins Inc., and the company has become a leader in termite and pest control as well as other consumer services.

While in Delaware, however, Wayne Rollins did not forget about Young Harris. He would send money to his uncle, asking him to select worthy students to receive scholarships at Young Harris. After the acquisition of Orkin, Wayne Rollins and his family moved to Atlanta. And in 1970, he was asked to join the board of Young Harris.

His first question was: “What does Young Harris need the most?” The answer then was that it needed to increase enrollment. “So he took that on as his goal, and he helped them,” Pam Rollins said.

Then in 1976, Rollins funded the planetarium at Young Harris; in 1985 he funded a dorm, and in 1989, the family built the dining hall.

“When the board had a need, your grandfather took care of it,” Cox told Pam Rollins. “He didn’t just do the flashy. He did what was needed.”
Wayne Rollins passed away in October of 1991, and Pam Rollins joined the board in 1992, and has been on the board ever since.

“In many ways, we are at the same crossroads where we were when he joined the board in 1970 — how to increase our enrollment,” Pam Rollins said. “We have to build the buildings to support a four-year college.”

In addition to financing the $44 million Rollins Campus Center, the $55 million campaign aims to raise $4 million for the endowment, $5 million in annual support and $2 million in restricted support.

Young Harris has been a beneficiary of a major father and daughter bequest that was announced in 1999. W.I.H. Pitts, and his daughter, Margaret Adger Pitts, included Young Harris in their will. The combination of both estates was worth nearly $200 million, and the Young Harris portion was $63.5 million. The estates, managed by SunTrust Banks Inc., provide interest income to Young Harris of about 4 percent to 5 percent each year.

At the time, that meant that Young Harris had the highest endowment of any two-year college in the United States.

Today, the school has an endowment of about $100 million, and the proceeds go primarily to student scholarships, according to Paul Beckham, a public relations executive who is a Young Harris trustee and a former board chairman.

All of that is in keeping with Wayne Rollins’ philosophy. Pam Rollins found a couple of quotes from her grandfather about his philanthropic giving.

“Giving to a living institution that goes on and on and affects people’s lives — to me, that’s the best. That’s the highest kind of giving, when you invest in people,” Wayne Rollins, who never did get a college degree, is quoted as saying.

He also said: “I strongly believe in education…. I believe in it so much that I’ve given more to education than to anything else. In fact, I’ve given more than I thought I would ever have.”

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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