WVU alumni give back to their alma mater, support equine program

For Roberta and William “Bill” Gellner, West Virginia University has been an integral part of their family for many years – and the alumni are showing their appreciation by establishing a new endowment to support the equine program.

The Roberta and William Gellner Equine Endowment will advance the mission and goals of the equine program, which is housed within the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, with discretionary funds to support scholarships, research and other opportunities.

“We came up and talked to Crystal Smith about the program and were very impressed by its scope, particularly how it interfaced with other degree programs at the Davis College and how it gives students career options that were not available when we were students,” Bill Gellner said. “And Roberta just loves those horses.”

“Those horses” would be Cash, Dickie, Woody, Fat Boy, Cabernet, Lexi and Waylon – the seven American Quarter Horses that make up WVU’s teaching herd. They reside in Reedsville, West Virginia, on the J.W. Ruby Research Farm.

A team of working students feed, groom, and exercise the horses daily and are involved in maintaining the pastures, arenas, and other facilities on the farm. Caring for the horses builds time management, decision-making, and communication skills that students need to be marketable after graduation.

The horses are also used to teach hands-on skills related to handling, riding, management, and veterinary medicine.

“We work to consistently provide our students with hands-on and real-world learning opportunities that will help them become successful professionals in the equine industry. The horses are our most valuable teaching tools,” said Crystal Smith, teaching associate professor of animal and nutritional sciences.

“We’re extremely thankful Mr. and Mrs. Gellner recognize and appreciate those efforts and want to help the program continue to succeed.”

The field of agriculture has always been important to the Gellners.

“We believe that agriculture in all of its many dimensions is an important part of West Virginia’s economy and hope that it will become an even more viable field for future graduates of Davis College,” Bill Gellner said.

As an undergraduate student at WVU, Bill Gellner was a member of the Livestock Judging Team which was coached by H.E. “Doc” Kidder, one of the Davis College’s most beloved professors.

The Wheeling, West Virginia, native graduated from the university in 1972 with dual degrees in agriculture and animal science. After graduation, he worked as a WVU Extension agent in Monongalia County before becoming a farm loan officer with USDA Farmers Home Administration.

Roberta Gellner grew up on a farm – complete with horses – in Lewis County. She began her collegiate career at WVU in 1973 as an animal science major. She ultimately earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and secured a position with the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Following her work with MSHA, Roberta Gellner was employed by Honeywell.

She obtained a master of science in analytical chemistry from Duquesne University in 1982, and a master of science in environmental engineering from Virginia Tech in 1992.

Returning home to West Virginia in 2005, Roberta Gellner took a job with Dominion Resources as a regional environmental manager.

Bill and Roberta were the first in a long line of Gellners to call WVU home. Bill’s four children – and Roberta’s step-children – are all Mountaineers. Three have graduated and the fourth, Abigale Gellner, is a junior political science major.

“As you can see, WVU has been a part of each of our lives and the experiences that we have had here have served to give us opportunities to work and learn and contribute in ways that we could only imagine when we were students,” Roberta Gellner said. “We hope that this endowment will make it possible for students to be better prepared for opportunities when they come knocking — whether it be going to vet school, working as an extension agent, or running a farm operation.”

The gift was made in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University which runs through December 2017.

June 5, 2017