Whitsons Give Half Million to New Building and Hospitality Management Program
George Whitson, University of Findlay trustee emeritus and his wife Shirlee, along with Whitson Properties have made a commitment of $520,000 to support the new Center for Student Life and College of Business building as well as the hospitality management program at University of Findlay. The announcement was made today at the University’s Winter College program held in Naples, Florida.
“George and Shirlee have made a tremendous impact on the Findlay community as well as the University of Findlay,” said President Katherine Fell, Ph.D. “Their support will ensure our students have the opportunity to learn in a state-of-the-art learning environment and allow hospitality management students to make connections and interact with experienced professionals in their field.”
“We want to leave a strong legacy in this community, and this is a place we know we can make an impact,” said George Whitson, who’s been a trustee since 1992. “The new building will enhance the College of Business and offer opportunities to UF students. The advanced technology will attract students to the University,” said he and his wife Shirlee Whitson in an interview. They funded Whitson Properties, a real estate investment and development company in Findlay, Ohio in 1965. In honor of the gift, the University will name the Dr. George M. and Shirlee J. Whitson Grand Auditorium and the Whitson Properties Board Conference and Seminar Room in the new building. Whitson Properties has also pledged $20,000 to support the Business Affiliates Scholarship Program to assist students in Hancock County as part of this commitment.
“I applaud students who want to enter the business profession and want to see them succeed,” said George Whitson. In his own life, Whitson found business to be a great and rewarding profession. “Business is a driving force in this country,” he added. In the 1960s, Whitson left a position as real estate manager with Marathon Oil Company, and began his own real estate and development company. Over the past 50 years, Whitson Properties has developed service stations, restaurants, hotels, and other businesses along Interstate 75 from Ohio to Kentucky. Whitson feels fortunate for his success with the company and wants young people today and in the future to have the same opportunities.
A portion of the half million-dollar commitment will create the Whitson Family Hospitality Endowment Fund at UF. The new fund allows students to participate in internships with Whitson Properties including three hotels in the Findlay area: Holiday Inn Express, Country Inn and Suites and the Hilton Garden Inn, ranked among the top Hilton Garden Inns in customer service and satisfaction by the Hilton Corporation. “Students will be able to find out what the industry is all about,” said Whitson. The fund will also provide support for other experiential learning opportunities, seminars, speakers and programming for the hospitality management program.
“Hands-on experience allows students to find out if their major will work for them,” said Whitson. George and his wife Shirlee, who both graduated from then Michigan State College (now Michigan State University) in 1952, see the value of hands on experience. Shirlee, who studied early elementary education, remembers having the opportunity to work in the classroom as a senior, and recognizes the value of having that experience early on. “Students today get into the classroom right away,” she said. “Having that experience early let’s you know it’s what you want to do.”
Though they’re both from Michigan, George from Lansing and Shirlee from Petoskey, “Our hearts are in Findlay,” they said. They built their life together in Findlay raising a family of two sons and three daughters. Their sons John and Paul now manage Whitson Properties. “We’ve invested our time and money and had great experiences in the Findlay community, and we want to do what we can to enhance the community and the University,” said George.
The Whitsons see the University of Findlay as a critical part of the Findlay community. “I’m proud to be a trustee member,” said George. “University of Findlay has the qualities every university ought to have. We’ve been able to see the University grow and mature over the last several years. More people have become aware of the University because of the quality of its academics, the safety of the campus and its competitive sports teams. It’s an easy decision to give back to a University that means so much to the community and has such a great future.”