In 1947, the Marshall University Foundation Inc. was chartered to receive, invest, administer and disburse private resources on behalf of Marshall University.
Ten years later, a well-respected lawyer and alumnus of the then Marshall College, Arthur B. Koontz, made a $20,000 donation to establish a scholarship, the largest donation of its kind to the college. The scholarship is still impacting students today.
Koontz was born at Kessler’s Cross Lanes in Nicholas County, West Virginia, January 29, 1885, one of 11 children. He attended school in Summersville before arriving at Marshall College in 1903.
Koontz’s grandson, George Ragland, said he doesn’t know how his grandfather found himself at Marshall. Ragland’s great-grandfather, John Koontz, was a farmer and stock raiser, but it is clear he valued higher education as all of his children went on to become successful educators, lawyers, doctors and political leaders.
After graduating from Marshall in 1907, Arthur Koontz was accepted at Yale University where he received his law degree. He began to practice law at Charleston in 1911, and appeared “in connection with important litigation in practically all the state courts,” according to a biography written by James Morton Callahan in History of West Virginia: Old and New; Volume 2.
In 1918 he was instrumental in the forming of the Union Trust Company of Charleston, which he served as vice president. It was with the stock in this company that he formed his endowment with Marshall.
Nominated by the democratic party as candidate for governor in 1920, “he made a most creditable campaign and won a flattering vote in the general republican landslide of that year,” according to Callahan.
Ragland described his grandfather like Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird.
“He was erudite, but in an understated way; a bit pensive; serious, but not stern; and respected in all circles,” Ragland said. “When he was not at home, he generally wore a navy suit, a white shirt, a tie and a hat. He deferred to his wife, Mazie, in all domestic matters.
“When he returned home at the end of his workday, he would go into a small room (today we might call it a den), sit down in a chair right beside the radio, take off his very thick glasses, close his eyes and listen intently to the news. Everyone knew not to bother him on those occasions.”
He was a gracious man.
“When he and his wife went out to a restaurant for supper, after the meal, when it was time to leave, he would make a point of going to the restaurant’s kitchen and thanking the cooks for a delicious meal,” Ragland said. “I can’t remember a time when he didn’t do that.
“After church on Sunday, my family would often go directly to the Koontz home, and find Arthur and Mazie sitting side-by-side in their rocking chairs on the porch. When I got out of the car and within ear shot, he smiled a big smile, reached out his arms for me, and said, ‘Hello, Big Topper [his nickname for me]. Come up here and sit on my lap.’ That loving gesture made me feel like a million bucks!”
Koontz also impacted the direction Ragland took in life.
“When I was a senior in college, Arthur (I called him ‘Granddaddy’) asked me what I was going to do after graduation,” he said. “When I told him I had no specific plans, he said, ‘A legal education never hurt anyone.’ That casual comment gave me some much-needed direction. So, I enrolled in the Washington & Lee School of Law, had a wonderful experience there, and eventually ended up becoming a partner in the largest law firm in North Carolina, where I worked until retirement. Had Arthur not given me that encouragement and support, who knows what I would have done with myself?”
Koontz continues to impact the lives of college students. His scholarship has been awarded nearly every year since it was established, including this year.
Koontz died of a heart attack in 1968. Ragland said his grandfather, due to the age difference, did not have much impact on his ideas toward philanthropy, and his parents, children of the Great Depression, placed more emphasis on saving.
“Personally, however, I believe in giving to those organizations that benefitted me,” he said. “I began making annual gifts to my law school soon after graduating.”
Ragland said he believes his grandfather and great-grandfather would tell current Marshall students to take the opportunity to broaden their minds, would say something like:
“There are many things you could be doing with your life right now. Of all those options, you have chosen to be a student at Marshall University. As such, you have the opportunity to learn about lots of different subjects, to increase your understanding of the past and the present, to interact with students from dissimilar backgrounds and, in general, to broaden your mind. Take advantage of this opportunity. Apply yourself. Do your best. You will never regret it. We wish you well.”