As West Virginia University continues to reach new milestones in its ambitious comprehensive campaign, A State of Minds, WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design honored some of its most ardent supporters and partners at a recent banquet.

“We’ve begun a new tradition of honoring some of the people and organizations that truly make a difference here in the Davis College providing us with a margin of excellence through donations of their time, energy, ideas and financial support,” said Daniel J. Robison, dean of the Davis College.

“We have and will always honor our outstanding faculty, staff and students for the work they do, and now we add another group of well-deserved recognitions,” Robison continued. “The kinds of contributions these people make set us apart, enable us, and inspire us to work all the harder.”

Robison noted that private giving and donations of time and energy make all the more difference in uncertain budgetary times and, through endowments, “sustain the good works of students and faculty for years to come.”
Individuals and organizations honored were:

Philanthropists of the Year: Robert and Wilma Fithian funded the Dr. Kenneth Carvell Graduate Fellowship. Both are proud graduates of West Virginia University. Mrs. Fithian (formerly Wilma Daniels) graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education in 1977. Mr. Fithian received a bachelor’s degree in forest management in 1977 and a master’s degree in forest science in 1979. Robert and Wilma were married in 1978 and have three children – Robert, Anne and Lauren.

Corporate Partners of the Year: Farm Credit has funded a graduate assistant support fund enabling research, travel and conference attendance. Farm Credit is part of a nationwide network of cooperative lending institutions that provides financing for farm and country home loans; land purchase, home construction, and improvements; buildings, machinery, livestock and equipment; operating expenses and lines of credit; and more. Farm Credit was created in 1916 and is now the largest single provider of agricultural credit in the United States.

Resource Development Award: Gregory A. Zerkel has been an exceptional volunteer who is committed to helping the college find industry partners to develop new undergraduate programs. In 1984, Mr. Zerkel founded Mason Dixon Energy, Inc. for the purpose of providing contract land services to the oil and gas exploration sector. Over the next 25 years, the company grew to become one of the largest and most highly respected land services companies in the United States. In 2010, Zerkel sold a majority equity stake in Mason Dixon Energy to Hudson Ferry Capital, a private equities firm based in New York City. Under Hudson Ferry Capital’s leadership, Mason Dixon Energy has subsequently merged with OGM Land and Percheron Acquisitions. Cumulatively, the three companies now operate as Percheron, LLC and employ more than 1,000 land professionals working from 43 offices in 17 states.

Volunteer Leader: Kaye C. Daniel has been recognized for her commitment to assisting with the college’s State of Minds Comprehensive Campaign, including serving as campaign committee chair and assisting with identifying potential donors and building strong donor-college relationships. Born in Raleigh, N.C., Daniel earned her bachelor’s degree in home economics from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and her master’s from the WVU Davis College. She serves as a member of the Davis College Visiting Committee, as the council representative to the National Boy Scout Council, as a Baptist Homes pet therapy volunteer, and is the past president of American Association of University Women Mt. Lebanon-South Hills Chapter.

Legacy Leaders of the Year: Sen. Robert and Mrs. Jennifer Williams have been recognized for their legacy gift in support of the WVU Davis College. Sen. Williams has been awarded the USDA Honor Award, the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and has been inducted into the West Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Hall of Fame. He is a farmer, co-owner of Williams Appraisal Service and currently represents the 14th District in the West Virginia State Senate. Jennifer Ours Williams serves as the program director for West Virginia University Extension Service’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Unit. Mrs. Williams has been recognized and awarded for her programming efforts by various organizations, and recently received the West Virginia Women in Agriculture Award and the Susan Dew Hoff Award from the West Virginia Women’s Commission. She holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s in agricultural education from WVU. She is a co-owner of Williams Appraisal Service and Ours Valley View Poultry Farm, Inc., a poultry, livestock and cash crop operation in Hardy County.

Foundation Partner of the Year: The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation is being recognized for its commitment to assisting in the development of the WVU Davis College’s EQuad Program. The independent foundation was established in 1944 by Michael and Sarah Benedum, natives respectively of Bridgeport and Blacksville, W.Va. Since its inception in 1944, the Foundation has made more than 7,600 grants totaling more than $395 million. During his lifetime in the oil and gas business, Mr. Benedum amassed a fortune, ranking him in his day among the 100 wealthiest Americans. Mr. Benedum operated his worldwide business from corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pa. Mr. and Mrs. Benedum established residence in Pittsburgh in 1907 and lived there for more than 50 years. They named the Foundation in memory of their only child, Claude Worthington Benedum, who died in 1918 at age 20. In creating the Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Benedum expressed the wish that grantmaking be focused in West Virginia and Pittsburgh, their native and adopted homes.

To find out more about supporting the Davis College, please contact Julie Cryser, director of development, at 304-293-2400 or



CONTACT: David Welsh, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design

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