July 20, 2012 — Officials and friends joined the University of Virginia's College at Wise on Thursday to break ground on a long-anticipated project that solidifies the college's commitment to supporting and encouraging health and wellness on campus and in Southwest Virginia.
The $8.3 million project, made possible by a gift from the Richard and Leslie Gilliam Foundation, includes an 11,000-square-foot addition to the C. Bascom Slemp Student Center's existing fitness center and the renovation of 5,833 square feet of the Fred B. Greear Gymnasium. The center will house a new exercise area, a multipurpose room for yoga, dance and other activities, two conference rooms for individual and group health advising and instruction, and locker rooms. The center is slated for completion in December 2013.
The facility also will support the efforts of the Healthy Appalachia Institute, a partnership between the college and the University of Virginia to promote wellness in the region.
"Major projects like this come to fruition only with the concerted, combined efforts of visionaries and doers," said Marcia Gilliam, a 1982 graduate of U.Va.-Wise and chair of its College Board. "Richard and Leslie Gilliam are doers. For many years they have made good things happen at U.Va.-Wise and in Southwest Virginia."
"U.Va.-Wise has been tremendously important to the Gilliam family," said Leslie Gilliam, adding that one of the primary reasons the family supports the college is the wealth of opportunities it offers the region and its residents. "We have not forgotten where we came from. We're so excited about the future of U.Va.-Wise."
While visiting colleges with their children, the Gilliams noticed that fitness and wellness centers were a major component of campus life at most schools. Establishing the center at U.Va.-Wise could attract and retain students while also making a positive impact on the region's health, Leslie Gilliam said. Supporting the work of the Healthy Appalachia Institute and its focus on the health of the region could have a lasting impact on the health of the region, she said.
Richard and Leslie Gilliam recommended the facility be named to honor Winston Ely, a long-time employee of the college. The U.Va.-Wise College Board approved the request and dubbed the facility the Winston Ely Health and Wellness Center.
"We've noticed through the years how much Winston Ely cares about the students," she said. "Winston, we are pleased to honor you for your service and dedication."
Several officials from the University of Virginia also attended the groundbreaking. Leonard Sandridge, special assistant to University President Teresa A. Sullivan, read a letter from Sullivan offering congratulations on the groundbreaking and thanking the Gilliams for their generosity.
Hunter Craig, a member of U.Va.'s Board of Visitors, said the Gilliams have been instrumental in the growth and success of U.Va.-Wise and its mission in Southwest Virginia, and have challenged the college to even greater heights of service and excellence.
David C. Gordon, co-director of the Healthy Appalachia Institute, said U.Va.-Wise is taking bold action to promote health and wellness on campus and in the community.
"The climb to wellness begins at U.Va.-Wise," he said.
Richard Gilliam, a Wise native, is a 1974 graduate of U.Va.-Wise, then known as Clinch Valley College. He was founder and chief executive officer of Cumberland Resources, a coal company purchased by Massey Energy in 2010. Leslie Gilliam is from Jonesville and is a 1982 graduate of James Madison University. She serves on the James Madison University Board of Visitors.
The Gilliams live in Charlottesville and have three children, Baxter, Julia and Anna.
Ely, a 1961 graduate of U.Va.-Wise, started work at Clinch Valley College in 1974. He has been director of cooperative education, placement services, and adult studies and continuing education. He retired in 1990, but has worked in the U.Va.-Wise Office of Development, first as director of development and as senior campaign advisor reporting to the chancellor. He has served and continues to serve on many boards, civic and church organizations.