West Virginia Executive Summer 2014 - Page 62

Home Away From Home Erickson Alumni Centers By Amy Arnett If you have attended college in West Virginia, chances are high that you’ve been in an Erickson Alumni Center. Twelve schools in the state currently have alumni facilities that exist because of one West Virginia entrepreneur: Charlie Oscar Erickson. Erickson, who was often called C.O. in lieu of his formal full name, was born in Keystone, WV in McDowell County in 1913. He had a modest upbringing, and after an injury playing football in the sixth grade, he left school and never went back. Erickson was a hard worker and entrepreneur by nature. He owned a dry cleaning business and a bath house for coal miners in Southern West Virginia, and, in 1942, he was elected mayor of Man, WV. In the 1950s, Erickson was living in Logan County, when television began sweeping the nation. Living in a rural part of the country, Erickson knew there wouldn’t be much service to the area without some prompting, and he decided to do the prompting himself. He purchased surplus Army cable and wired cable service to the residents in Logan. Erickson founded Durfees Cable Co. in 1959 and moved to Parkersburg in 1961. Over the next 20 years, he became an industry titan and built his fortune in the cable business. In 1981, he sold his cable interests and retired. Though his days as a businessman were mostly behind him, Erickson’s notoriety, which lives on today in West Virginia, was built on his philanthropy. The Erickson Foundation was founded in 1993, shortly before his death, and his legacy has been continued through the foundation’s philanthropic gifts. C.O’s daughter and son-in-law, Myrah and Lee Scott, have been heavily involved in the foundation’s giving and have initiated several of its relationships with universities. After C.O. passed away, his son, Charles, took over the foundation. Charles died in 2013, leaving his wife, Laurie, and her longtime friend, Kathy Eddy, to continue as trustees for the Erickson Foundation. Erickson’s gifts to the state have been large in number and dollar amounts, including a $50,000 donation to Parkersburg High School to renovate its football stadium. The most prominent beneficiaries of the family’s giving, though, have been alumni centers. 62 west virginia executive In an article published in the Charleston Daily Mail in March 1990, Erickson explained that alumni centers give alumni a medium to be organized, and through that organization, great accomplishments for universities have been achieved. As a man who never made it to the seventh grade, Erickson never regretted lacking his education, saying “I’ve thought that if I’d gone to college, I might be working for someone else now.” His appreciation for higher education and what it does for young people and the business community motivated him to give to the organizations, and today, West Virginians are still reaping the benefits. In West Virginia, 12 schools have been able to fund alumni facilities through gifts from C.O. Erickson and his family: Alderson Broaddus University, Bethany College, Concord University, Davis & Elkins College, Fairmont State University, Marshall University, Salem International University, University of Charleston, West Virginia State University, West Virginia University, West Virginia Wesleyan College and Wheeling Jesuit University. C.O. Erickson’s generosity is also responsible for creating and maintaining the Mayo Clinic Erickson Hair & Skin Care Center in Rochester, MN. The center provides free, personal consultations for skin care and hair alternatives to patients who are experiencing cosmetic side effects from treatment.