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Covert wants $3M gift to help students fulfill legacies
Thanking John Covert, second from left, for his gift were, from left, Peter Grandjean, dean of the School of Applied Sciences; David Rock, dean of the School of Education; Nikki Neely Davis, assistant vice chancellor for development; and Lee Cohen, dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

John Covert has lofty goals for the $3 million planned gift he committed to the University of Mississippi College of Liberal Arts and schools of Applied Sciences and Education.


“I’m hoping my gift helps Ole Miss remain in the top tier of public universities,” Covert said. “I think there is a transformative power of higher education, and I would like for my legacy gift to be part of that. If my legacy can be used to help students fulfill their legacies, then I see that as the greatest accomplishment.”

Of his gift, $1.5 million is directed to the Covert Family Endowment for Excellence in Nutrition and Hospitality Management, which he established in 2022 with a $300,000 gift to provide funding for the renovations, maintenance and upkeep of a world-class innovation kitchen and dining areas at the university’s South Oxford Center. The facility will help train students in the School of Applied Sciences.

Another $750,000 is directed to the John W. Covert, Jr. Graduate Support in Education Endowment and $750,000 goes to the John W. Covert, Jr. Graduate Support in Liberal Arts Endowment, both to assist graduate students with expenses. Recipients will be known as Covert Scholars.

The donor’s affinity for the innovation kitchen stems from his longtime career as a food-service industry owner-manager; and his daughter, Lauren Seale, graduated from the School of Applied Sciences. He supports the College of Liberal Arts because of his own UM education and the School of Education because his sister and partner are educators.

Covert also has committed $125,000 to Ole Miss Athletics.

“There’s no organization that I’ve been associated with that deserves these gifts more than the University of Mississippi,” said the liberal arts alumnus. “I’m comfortable with our leadership, and I like where we’re headed from an athletics standpoint. It felt good to be on campus in 1968 as an 18-year-old kid, and it feels just as good today. I’m proud to be able to make this gift to benefit students at my university.”

Planned by the School of Applied Sciences, an innovation kitchen and dining areas will be built at the South Oxford Center to train nutrition and hospitality management students.

UM Chancellor Glenn Boyce thanked the donor for his commitment to Ole Miss.

“We are grateful to John Covert for his trust in the university’s ability to manage these remarkable resources. They will be transformational in the lives of our students who are impacted by the exceptional opportunities provided. We appreciate his commitment to how our students build their legacies and make contributions to the world.”

Covert paid his own college tuition with student loans and part-time jobs. He estimates that it took him 10 years after graduation to repay the loans, prompting him to designate half his gift for graduate student support.

“The scholarships just aren’t out there for graduate students at public universities. I’m hoping these resources have a far-reaching impact long after I’m gone,” the donor said. “I have a deep love for the university. This gift fills my heart — this investment in Ole Miss.”

At Ole Miss, Covert was a member of Delta Psi fraternity, worked in the J.D. Williams Library and was mentored by Franklin Moak, dean of the Division of Student Personnel. After graduating in 1972 with a double major in English and biology, Covert received a draft notice for the ongoing Vietnam War. He was chosen for the U.S. Air Force officer training school.

Covert became a member of a Minuteman Missile Combat Crew in North Dakota. There, the military paid for his tuition at the University of North Dakota, enabling him to earn an MBA. He was named a first lieutenant and then captain before resigning his commission.

The donor enjoyed a 28-year career with Valley Food Services, a regional company covering 20 states, which he eventually owned with six others. The group sold Valley to a national conglomerate.

The Meridian, Mississippi, native and his partner, T.J. Bell, a UM School of Education graduate, now live in Oxford, Mississippi. Covert’s family includes his two children daughter Lauren and son Todd. Lauren and Scott Seale, both Ole Miss graduates, have two children. Todd has three children.

To make a gift to the Covert Family Endowment for Excellence in Nutrition and Hospitality Management, the John W. Covert, Jr. Graduate Support in Education Endowment or the John W. Covert, Jr. Graduate Support in Liberal Arts Endowment, send a check, with the fund’s name written in the memo line, to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or online here.

To learn about supporting areas of the university, contact Nikki Neely Davis, assistant vice chancellor for development, at or 662-915-6678.

For information on including the university in estate plans, contact Marc Littlecott, advancement director for estate and planned giving, at or 662-915-6625.

By Tina H. Hahn/UM Development


Online gifts for the 2024 calendar year should be made no later than noon on December 31, 2024.  Checks by mail will need to be postmarked by December 31 to be counted in the 2024 calendar year.