The desire to establish a legacy is a common thread that runs through the Gresham family, beginning generations ago and continuing today.
Walton Gresham, president of Gresham Petroleum Co., and his brother Tom Gresham, president of Double Quick, Inc., have each made new $100,000 commitments to the Vaught Society/Forward Together campaign in support of Ole Miss Athletics. The benefactors from Indianola, Miss., have also each continued to endow the William W. Gresham Entrepreneurial Lectureship. Established in memory of their father, the fund supports the School of Business Administration’s entrepreneurship program.
Though their father passed on his spirit of giving by supporting the university in many ways, the family’s bond with the university came even earlier with their great-great grandfather, who was attending classes when the Civil War began. Perhaps even more influential was their great-grandmother whose five children all graduated from the university, causing the Gresham alliance to grow exponentially as increasing numbers of family members enrolled.
The most recent in the lineage are Tom Gresham’s sons Thomas (BBA ’10) and Michael (BSCVE ’12); his son-in-law Michael Blonkvist (BBA ’08), husband of daughter, Katy; and daughter-in-law Anna Pearson Gresham (BSN ’11), who is Thomas’ wife. Walton’s wife, Laura (BAED ’71), and their daughters Lenore Gresham Livingston (BA ’95) and Elizabeth Gresham Veazey (BA ’98, MEd ’99) also earned degrees at Ole Miss.
The Greshams believe it’s only natural to support an institution that has given so much to their family. In giving comprehensively, they hope to see Ole Miss students succeed both on and off the playing fields.
“There is a segment of society that looks at several things, other than the academic programs,” said Walton Gresham, who was recently tapped for service on the University of Mississippi Foundation Board of Directors. “They look at a school’s athletic program, facilities and extra programs, such as band. It is important for schools to excel in all areas and not just in the classroom.”
Tom Gresham, a Southern Methodist University alumnus, agrees: “It’s important to give back to Ole Miss both academically and athletically. Even though we never attended Ole Miss, it is a special place to both Louise (his wife, a University of Texas alumna) and me. We enjoy college athletics – football, baseball, basketball, tennis – and we want Ole Miss to compete on the national scene. It’s good for Ole Miss and for the state of Mississippi.”
The Greshams recognize that while collegiate championships bring the state to life, it’s economic growth that keeps the state alive.
“Entrepreneurship is so important for Mississippi,” Tom Gresham explained. “If Mississippi is going to grow and prosper, we need Ole Miss to produce our next generation of leaders for business, academics and state government. Businesses are created by entrepreneurs, so we hope our gift to the academic community will help prepare students to go out, take a risk, and start their own businesses.”
“All businesses start with a small group of people and an idea. Even Microsoft and Apple started small,” said Walton Gresham, continuing the conversation. “Daddy was always looking at a new idea and thinking about getting into different businesses, so we felt that an entrepreneurial program was a good fit for us to do something in memory of our Dad who gave us the base to do what we have done.”
In addition to financial security, Bill Gresham (BA ’48) and his wife, Ann, also gave the brothers their love for Ole Miss Athletics.
“The 1969 football season is one I will always remember. I was in the sixth grade and Ole Miss beat Georgia, LSU and Tennessee in Jackson, and I watched Ole Miss lose to Bama 33-32 on TV,” Tom Gresham recalls. “Ole Miss got a Sugar Bowl bid and my dad took our entire family to New Orleans for the game. Watching Ole Miss beat Arkansas in Tulane stadium will always be a great memory. Also, during the ’69-’70 season, my sister Gayle (BA ’73) was dating Jim Poole (BBA ’72), an All-SEC tight end. His best friend on the team was Archie. It was really special getting to know and being around Archie and Jim.
And the next generation was impacted.
“Dad’s love of Ole Miss was contagious on both my sons as well,” Tom Gresham continued. “When Eli started playing at Ole Miss, Rivers Myers and I decided to start taking our sons to one away-game a year. We saw Eli lead the Rebels to a win over LSU in Baton Rouge his sophomore year. We don’t talk too much about our trip to Tuscaloosa during Eli’s junior year against Alabama, but Eli’s senior year against Auburn … that victory was really fun!
“I told Thomas and Michael when they were back in junior high that if Ole Miss ever went to the College World Series, I would take them. Well they reminded me last year, and Louise and I enjoyed a great trip to Omaha with them.”
Keith Carter, senior associate athletics director for development and executive director of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation, said stories like Tom Gresham’s are one of the best byproducts that the Vaught Society/Forward Together campaign will produce.
“If we can continue to be successful at recruiting the best coaches and leaders for our teams, if we can continue to have increasingly improved athletic facilities and if we can utilize campaign funds to support increasingly better programs for our student-athletes, then our alumni and fans will be able to continue having those great experiences,” Carter said. “They’ll continue bringing their kids and making those fantastic memories that will be passed along to Rebel fans for generations to come.”
Carter said he greatly appreciates the Greshams’ gifts to the Forward Together campaign and is impressed by their desire to provide support for both athletics and academics.
Walton Gresham takes it in stride. “It’s always fun to give back to any school, charity or organization that does well. The University of Mississippi is doing well,” he said. “I do have concerns that we can never stop and brag because the competition is always just over your shoulder.
“Instead, the university must continue to attract more in-state students and try to get our graduates to create jobs in Mississippi. We also need to encourage our graduates to get interested in politics in our state and run for office. We need the link to be strong from Ole Miss to every high school in the state to better recruit young kids to the university. And we must encourage all our graduates to give back to their university.”