Gaton Foundation gift is UK’s biggest ever

Published 3:21 pm Friday, June 2, 2023


The University of Kentucky on Thursday announced a $100 million gift, the largest in UK’s history, to the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

The gift is from the Bill Gatton Foundation, endowed by the late Carol Martin “Bill” Gatton, a businessman, investor and UK alum who gave generously to his alma mater. Gatton died in April 2022.

Email newsletter signup

To honor Gatton’s parents, Edith Martin and Harry W. Gatton Sr., the college will be renamed as the Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

A UK news release says Gatton’s gift to CAFE is the “latest in a series of generous donations that have transformed the university, including record-breaking gifts to the Gatton College of Business and Economics, the university’s Gatton Student Center and scholarships for students with unmet financial need through the UK LEADS initiative.”

Gatton’s impact on the University of Kentucky exceeds $180 million; he is the university’s single largest donor, says the UK release.

Nancy Cox, UK vice president for land-grant engagement and dean of UK CAFE, said the gift “will allow us to both accelerate our land-grant mission and create new programs to serve our citizens.”

Cox said the college will form a task force of faculty and staff to consider how the gift will be used to support the Gatton Foundation’s vision for scholarships, academic programming, infrastructure and research.

Considered by UK to be the largest ever to any college of agriculture, the donation will be “transformational,” said UK President Eli Capilouto.

“Like Mr. Gatton did, we dream of a Kentucky tomorrow that is healthier, wealthier and wiser than it is today. This gift reflects his profound belief in this institution to be a partner for progress in our capacity and commitment to advance Kentucky,” Capilouto said.

Gatton grew up on a farm in Muhlenberg County and during his freshman year at UK  served as the state president of the Kentucky Future Farmers of America. He graduated from the College of Commerce in 1954 and earned a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He owned car dealerships and was involved in real estate projects in multiple states.

Bill Gatton Foundation Trustee Danny Dunn said the gift is the foundation’s first major donation since Gatton’s death. “This gift symbolizes the foundation’s commitment to honoring Mr. Gatton’s passion for Kentucky and his desire to support its agricultural community as an essential way to advance this state.”