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The University of Alabama

$2 Million Culverhouse Scholarship Donation Designed to Give UA Students Options


Eliza and Hugh Culverhouse Jr.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Early in his law career, Hugh Culverhouse Jr. faced a choice.

Stay with a job providing remarkable experience or opt for one with a higher salary but less responsibility. He selected the former, the option that best honed his skill-set … a move from which he’s benefited, he said with hindsight, for more than three decades.

“I would have never had that choice if I had had student loans,” Culverhouse said.

Eyeing an opportunity to provide options to University of Alabama students, Culverhouse, 65, and his wife, Eliza, have donated $2 million to The University of Alabama for scholarships to defray student debt. UA announced the establishment of the Eliza and Hugh F. Culverhouse Student Assistance Scholarship with the couple’s $1 million donation in August 2013, and now the Culverhouses have donated an additional $1 million.

Six students in UA’s Culverhouse College of Commerce were selected last fall as the 2013-2014 Culverhouse Scholars, and additional scholarships will be made available, also in perpetuity, with the addition of the latest million-dollar gift. The UA business college is named for Culverhouse’s late father, Hugh Culverhouse Sr., a UA alumnus.

The son said although he takes a different approach to giving than did his dad, who, along with his widow, Joy McCann Culverhouse, was also a generous benefactor to UA, he learned about both the responsibility and the personal gratification from philanthropy by observing his dad.

He said he hopes the gifts he and Eliza have made will motivate others.

“I’m trying to get other people to realize that having their names on a building and bringing in an endowed professor impacts the kids in a different way than does providing direct scholarship support.

“I know a lot of parents’ only options – especially after this recession – are student loans for their kids. We are doing this to help. It’s a good feeling.

“If you can’t give fifty thousand dollars, lower it,” Culverhouse said. “Maybe you can give five hundred dollars.  There is nothing too small. Every dollar helps.”

Jennifer Park, a UA senior accounting major from Auburn and one of the Culverhouse Scholars, said the scholarship positively impacted her daily life.

“This year has been the most rewarding year possible, and I think it all started with Mr. and Mrs. Culverhouse’s generosity,” said Park of her senior year. “I had three (part-time) jobs, at the same time while I was a full-time student,” she said. “I went down to two jobs. I could definitely focus a lot more on school, which is so nice.”

Park said the scholarship also provided her with the gift of time, enabling her to pursue an optional internship experience during the spring 2014 semester in Warren Averett’s Birmingham office. Without the scholarship, she said she would have felt pressured to pack in enough credits to graduate the previous December, rather than obtain the experience made possible from the internship with the accounting, tax and advisory firm.

Randi Arrington, a native of Silas in Choctaw County, remembered when she received the phone call telling her of her scholarship selection following her application and interview.

“I was really excited … beyond words,” said Arrington, a senior double majoring in finance and accounting.  “When your name gets drawn out of 30,000 kids,” she said modestly, “it was a big shock. I am so thankful. It was such a big help.”

Arrington said one of her goals is to eventually return the favor to a future student.

“That is what I want to do one day,” she said.

The experience that Hugh Culverhouse cited as especially valuable was his role as a federal prosecutor, specifically, as an assistant U.S. attorney, working in the fraud division in Miami, Fla.

“I tried 30 trials my first year,” the Coral Gables, Fla. resident recalled. “I was incompetent the first five. After about that fifth trial – I had lost three or four out of five – I called my mother up and said, ‘Mom, I’m not meant for this. I think I should join Dad’s tax firm.’”

Culverhouse said his mother quickly and clearly voiced her disdain with her son’s attitude.

“’You keep trying. At some point, it is going to come to you,” he recalled her ordering.  ”After about 10 trials,” Culverhouse says, “it clicked. I had the best times of my life.”

Culverhouse, who would later practice law privately for 20 years and who had previously worked for the Securities and Exchange Commission as a trial attorney for its division of enforcement, said it was his stint as the assistant U.S. Attorney in Miami that made him fearless.

At one point, he was offered a chance to join a law firm and earn a $23,000 annual salary versus the $15,000 he was making as a federal prosecutor. He wouldn’t get to try his own cases, though, and, even if he made senior partner, would have to live to be, as he put it, “304-years-old” before he would try as many cases as he already had. He opted to stay put.

Hugh’s father, Hugh Culverhouse Sr., eventually became a wealthy man. Also an attorney, the elder Culverhouse became a real estate developer and business executive, owning an NFL franchise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But, those were not the family’s circumstances when it came time for Junior to apply to colleges.

“He borrowed the money to send me to school,” Culverhouse recalled of his dad. “He made his wealth later in life. At that point, he was in private practice.”

The son earned his MBA from NYU in 1972, returning to the University of Florida, where he had earned his undergraduate degree, earning his law degree in 1974.

Today, Culverhouse is chief executive officer and owner of Palmer Ranch Holdings, a planned community encompassing some 10,000 acres in Sarasota County. He is also the principal in Culverhouse Limited Partnerships and invests in real estate, securities and hedge funds. He and his wife are known for their philanthropic efforts.

“Nothing has felt as good as this,” he said of helping The University of Alabama students.

“Any dollar you can give, you can have that same feeling,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a certain amount to generate the feeling. If you put a hundred bucks toward a scholarship, that’s one hundred dollars toward a kid who doesn’t have to take out a loan for that amount.”

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.