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winter 2018
Robby Atkins and wife

The power of the gift

From one Wofford football player to another

Just before the start of the fall semester, Robby Atkins ’65 met with a group of student-athletes from the college’s football team. They had finished their morning practice, cleaned up and gathered around a corner table in the college’s Burwell dining hall. They were eager to meet a fellow Terrier who played football at Wofford and went on to a successful career in business. He was looking forward to meeting some of the young men being considered for the Robert D. Atkins Football Scholarship.

Atkins has been fully funding a full-tuition, room-and-board scholarship for a student-athlete on the college football team each year since 1989. Last year Lorenzo Long ’17 held the honor. This year Datavious Wilson ’20, a business economics and finance major from Hartsville, S.C., was selected.

“I thank God every day that I’m a student-athlete at Wofford College,” says Wilson, the college’s starting linebacker. “I’m the first in my family to go to college, so I understand how blessed I am. Not everyone gets this opportunity.”

Atkins caught Wilson on the field after the win against Gardner-Webb. They hugged and talked a minute. It was the start of a relationship that will build over the next three years, and both Wilson and Atkins will enjoy a lifelong tie.

“Being on the football team at Wofford was a great experience for me,” says Atkins. “It provided me with an opportunity to build relationships and friendships that have endured for years.”

Atkins is quick to credit his Wofford degree as a foundation to his successful career in business. He also says that he would not have been able to afford Wofford without scholarship assistance. Both are reasons that Atkins began giving back to the next generation immediately upon graduation. Those first annual gifts to the Terrier Club have grown through the years to include gifts to capital projects, leadership on the Terrier Club Board of Directors and on the college’s Investment Advisory Committee, the establishment of the Atkins student-managed investment fund, the annually funded football scholarship that Wilson now holds, and most recently an annually funded scholarship for a student-athlete on the men’s basketball team and an endowed scholarship for a student-artist. The two annually funded athletic scholarships eventually will be endowed thanks to a charitable lead annuity trust that Atkins set up as part of his estate plans. 

“With the completion of the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium and the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts, my wife Susan and I wanted to do something special — from one former Wofford football player to another — to thank Jerry Richardson for what he has done for the college and community,” says Atkins.

The new Atkins Family Endowed Basketball Scholarship reflects Atkins’ admiration for Richardson, but it also honors the success of Wofford’s men’s basketball team and its four trips to the NCAA basketball tournament in the past six years. The Susan Chapman Atkins Endowed Scholarship in the arts pays homage to Susan’s talent, particularly in pastels and colored pencils, and her passion for art and beauty — the ideal complement to the beautiful new Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts.

Robby and Susan Atkins, sweethearts at Spartanburg High School, married three weeks after Atkins graduated from Wofford. Three weeks after that, Atkins started a career in textiles with Deering Milliken, now Milliken and Co. He was also a second lieutenant in the South Carolina Army National Guard. In 1983 he and Susan founded Atkins Machinery.

“We started the business on the dining room table,” says Susan, who managed the administrative work until her retirement. Robby traveled the world buying and selling used textile machinery and parts until his retirement. Now their son, Greg, runs the business, but the principles of success remain the same:

  • Sell something for more than you paid for it.
  • Always manage cash flow.
  • Have a good knowledge of the product that you’re selling.
  • Don’t grow faster than you can manage.
  • Surround yourself with good, honest and dependable people.

“It was a family business. We all cared about each other,” says Susan. 

That’s also how they feel about Wofford.

“I love the college. … In the fall, I enjoy every game I go to,” says Robby, who travels with the team as much as he can and even braved the bitter cold of Youngstown, Ohio, during the playoff quarterfinals last season.

“Susan and Robby Atkins are two of Wofford’s finest,” says Dr. David Wood, senior vice president for advancement at Wofford. “They have continued to share their good fortune in life and business, and 27 years of student-athletes on the college’s football team have felt the impact of their love of Wofford College.”

Giving comes naturally to the Atkinses. Although Susan loved creating art, she put it on the back burner for years because it was best for their family and business. In addition to giving his free time in service to the country through the National Guard, Atkins also spent eight years as a guardian ad litem. They also are both quick to say that a successful marriage involves lots of “give” and a good sense of humor. Although it’s not written into the scholarship description, the Atkinses hope that the recipients of their scholarships will one day pay the gift forward.

“I’d like to think that any graduate of Wofford would find some way to give something back, regardless of the amount,” says Robby Atkins. “Wofford gives out lots of financial aid, so nearly everyone gets some kind of assistance to attend. I realized that many may not have the funds right out of college, but when their situation changes, I can only hope they will find a way to give back to Wofford.” 

Making a planned gift to Wofford College

Robby Atkins ’65 eventually will endow his two annually funded scholarships using a charitable lead annuity trust. What’s right for Atkins, however, may not be the best choice for you. Talk with your financial advisor or contact Lisa De Freitas ’88, director of gift planning, to discuss options.

Lisa De Freitas ’88

by Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89