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December 12, 2003
Chillicothe couple invests in future generations
By Mary Alice Casey

Larry Gates would like to see Chillicothe, Ohio, area residents become so committed to education that their license plates one day bear this message: "Ross County believes in scholarship." If anyone can inspire such a proclamation, it's Gates.

Gates and his wife, Mary, have taken a bold step that illustrates their belief both in the youth of Ross County and the value of higher education. The couple has committed $10 million to create a scholarship fund that will help students graduating from Ross County high schools pursue college degrees.

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The first scholarships offered through The Gates Foundation - Ross County Scholar's Fund will total $30,000 and will be awarded during the spring of 2004 to students beginning college in the fall. The donor-advised fund will be administered through The Ohio University Foundation, the private fund-raising arm of Ohio University. The gift was announced Dec. 11 at Ohio University-Chillicothe to a gathering of community leaders and high school administrators and students.

"A college degree," Gates says, "is no guarantee for success. But without it, you don't stand a chance. It's what allows you to put your foot in the door with everybody else's feet."

The Gateses returned to their native Chillicothe five years ago after Larry Gates retired. His 31-year career with Kraft Foods and subsequently its parent company, Philip Morris, took the couple around the world as Gates ascended to the position of senior vice president for human resources and administration.

Gates says that while overseeing human resources for a company employing 160,000 people in 180 markets, he worked with and reported to individuals from South Africa, England, India, Scandinavia and Australia.

"I had the good fortune to work with so many bright, brilliant people around the world who are well-educated and extremely motivated," Gates says, noting the global nature of today's economy. "Young people need to realize how capable their competition is in the world."

The Gates scholarships are available to graduates of Ross County high schools who demonstrate the ability and ambition to succeed in college but lack the money provided by scholarships or financial aid to afford a college education. Scholarship recipients can attend the college or university of their choice, although Gates expects many to pursue degrees at Ohio University-Chillicothe or the university's Athens campus.

"There is a need here," Gates says. "People don't seek higher education at the rate they do elsewhere in Ohio or around the country. Someday this fund will generate $2 million a year in scholarships. That's my dream, and it will happen."

Figures from the 2000 Census show 11.3 percent of Ross County residents 25 and older hold bachelor's degrees or higher compared to 21.2 percent of Ohioans and 24.4 percent of Americans. Chillicothe High School Principal John Payne says the Gateses' gift will help turn figures like that around.

"This is going to give a lot of our students who aren't financially able to attend college the opportunity to do so," Payne says. "This is a group we've been working with the last few years, and this fund will give us a significant tool in those efforts."

Gates was the youngest of seven children and the only member of his immediate family to earn a college degree.

"I feel blessed to have had the educational opportunities that I had," says Gates, who graduated from Chillicothe High School in 1956 and, after three years in the Army, earned a bachelor's degree from Oklahoma's Northeastern State University in 1964. Mary Gates attended Ohio University-Chillicothe. The couple has two daughters, Nicole McLaughlin and Michelle Bertagnoli, both of whom will serve as directors of the scholarship fund.

Upon the Gateses' return to Chillicothe in 1998, Larry Gates became involved with the Chillicothe High School Alumni Association and the Chillicothe Education Foundation, both of which provide support for Chillicothe schools.

"I got a real immersion in this as soon as I retired, and I became acutely aware of the need," Gates says. "I also became aware of how incredibly important Ohio University-Chillicothe is to Ross County. They offer so many programs that allow students to stay at home and get a degree or move on to the Athens campus."

Gates says he hopes his and Mary's creation of the scholarship fund inspires others to consider their own potential for improving educational opportunities for young people.

"These things that we're doing are just a small part. But I'm hopeful that they can be a springboard for other things," he says. "I really believe that there is the potential, the greatness - and I mean greatness - in so many people. They just need to the opportunity to unlock it."

For more information: Additional details on the scholarship fund and criteria are available in the accompanying news release.

Mary Alice Casey is editor of Ohio Today


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