August 12, 2002
02-338

VSU receives $8 million gift

Valdosta, GA - President Ronald M. Zaccari announced that Valdosta State University has received a bequest of approximately $8 million from the estate of the late Lillian S. Steele, of Valdosta, widow of the late Rea Steele.

"Individuals such as Rea and Lillian Steele believed in the power of education, and their enormous financial gift will carry on their dreams of assisting young men and women with careers in business, specifically finance and accounting," Zaccari said. "Valdosta State University is deeply gratified by Mr. and Mrs. Steele's generosity and their focus on educating the future generation of business leaders."

The gift, the largest in VSU's history, will endow academic scholarships in finance and accounting and establish distinguished chairs in the Harley Langdale Jr. College of Business Administration.

According to the college's dean, Dr. Kenneth Stanley, the funds will also be used to bring guest lecturers to the university and recruit students to the college of business.

"All of us are very excited about this significant donation to VSU and the Langdale College of Business Administration," Stanley said. "The income from this endowment will give us the means to reach a higher plateau of excellence."

The Steeles came to Valdosta from Panama City, Fla., in 1954 when Rea Steele was elected president of First State Bank by the board of directors. The bank later became part of Synovus Financial Corp. He retired from banking in 1982. During his tenure he also served as chairman and chief executive officer. Mrs. Steele, the former Lillian Skinner, was an interior designer and often assisted with decorating for Christmas and landscaping projects at the bank. She was very supportive of Mr. Steele in his business and civic activities.

Joy Barrett, co-executor of the Steele estate and long-time secretary to Rea Steele, remembers her former employer as a man who was interested in education.

"He always stressed education to employees and encouraged them to further their education," Barrett said. "He sent employees to seminars related to banking, as well as others like Dale Carnegie."

"The Steele gift is one of those gifts that all of us in fundraising dream about. Gifts of this magnitude have the ability to transform an institution and provide opportunities for a community that would not otherwise be available," said Sandra Fletcher, director of planned and major gifts. "VSU's College of Business Administration will have the means to offer exceptional learning experiences outside the norm to its students."

In honor of the Steeles, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia approved the naming of VSU's north campus to the "Rea and Lillian Steele Business Center North Campus."