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MSES graduate returns to Athens to give horses a Last Chance

M.C. Tilton | Sep 1, 2016

In the backwoods of Athens, Ohio, just up the quiet bends of Pomeroy Road, lies 40 acres of densely overgrown land that hasn’t been touched in 40 years.  It’s covered in autumn olive and honeysuckle, highlighted with rocky ridges where damp land subsides a little more every year. The surrounding plots are dotted with the silent homes of Athens residents seeking a stiller life outside the town.

Vegetation on the land that is now nearly impenetrable was once an alfalfa field belonging to Lucian Spataro, a longtime business communications professor at Ohio University who farmed the property until the 1960s. Lucian raised a son named after himself on the land – a son who would later grow to receive his master’s and doctorate degrees from Ohio University in environmental studies, move west to found the University of Arizona’s sustainability program, become a manager in an investment firm, and run an online education company.

As a well-versed and successful businessman and educator in his prime, Lucian Spataro, Jr.  seems an unlikely character to travel from Phoenix to Athens to buy an overgrown field with no road access.  But when Spataro stands beneath the 20,000 pines he planted with his father in 1965, he sees not the ghost of an abandoned house, but a tack shop; not impossibly thick greenery, but an endless stretch of sanctuary for animals he holds dearly: horses.

This incredible vision brought Spataro to OHIO’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs seeking innovators to help him build his dream of a new rescue, racing and tourism center nestled in Athens’s hills.

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Just up the road from Spataro’s lot is Last Chance Corral, a non-profit dedicated to rehabilitating horses suffering from abuse, abandonment or who just need a transitional home. Last Chance’s facilities are limited in space and resources. Rather than let his father’s lot sell to a housing development, Spataro hopes to renovate the land as an extension of Last Chance at no cost to the non-profit.  And he’s looking to generate innovation in this horse sanctuary from the faculty, professional staff and, especially, the students of the Voinovich School - he sees possibility in cross-campus pitch competitions, student interns and workers at the completed facilities, and graduate student leadership practicums.

Spataro’s heart visibly melts with a horse’s muzzle in his hands. It’s no wonder – he rode across the entire United States on an eight-year-old Arabian in 1989 to raise money to combat rainforest destruction. His eclectic career has led him to become the President and CEO of the Joe Foss Institute, President and CEO of FlipSwitch, the Director of Sustainable Development at the University of Arizona, and much more – but his deepest passions have always been with the animal he’s loved since childhood.

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Spataro’s diverse career has prepared him well to develop his father’s land.  As a comfortable investor and company growth generator, he sees potential in several areas of the land: a training and endurance facility for Arabian racing; several trails and pastures; a therapy center for veterans and the disabled; a tack shop; an agricultural area; and a restaurant embracing the 30 Mile Meal concept popular in Athens. Once the sanctuary is more firmly established, he may open it to the public for riding opportunities.

“The more we can integrate assets on the land, the better we can generate a reliable and sustainable revenue stream. I want it to be sustainable from a financial non-profit standpoint and an ecological standpoint,” Spataro said.

Today, Voinovich School ecologists are evaluating the lot to safely work around sandstone, springs, different soil types and many invasive species. Mitigating for factors like land disturbance and hoof impact is part of a holistic care practice for Spataro’s environmentalist side. When the land is further cleared, opened, and evaluated in the coming year, Spataro plans to begin pulling students and personnel from other branches of the Voinovich School to create an interdisciplinary paradise for environmentalists, businesspeople and horse lovers alike.

“It will be interesting to see what the students design – I know they’re capable of doing all kinds of amazing things,” Spataro said. “I’m really looking forward to it – I think it will be a wonderful project, as a destination for Athens residents and for people who have horses as a big part of their lives.”

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To learn more about Spataro’s progress on the Pomeroy Road horse sanctuary, stay current with the Voinovich School’s social media and news site, which will provide updates when Spataro travels from Phoenix to Athens throughout the years of the site’s development.