Since moving to its new home at Patrick Henry Family Services Farm last summer, the University of Lynchburg’s equestrian program has been busy building an outdoor arena and adding horses — thanks to donors like Dr. Charles R. Chandler and his wife, Vickie, whose gift of $100,000 will support the renovations.
“The equestrian center project, and specifically the covered [outdoor] arena, provide our program with its first real opportunity for sustainable growth,” said Director of Equestrian Phillip Williamson. “Giving our student-athletes access to high-quality facilities allows us to build on our competitive success into the future.”
Under Williamson’s lead, Lynchburg won the National Collegiate Equestrian Association single-discipline championship last spring and is currently the No. 1 team in the NCEA single-discipline rankings. With that kind of success comes more interest in the program and ultimately, a need for better and larger facilities that can accommodate more horses and riders, Williamson said.
So far, they’ve expanded the stabling from 12 stalls to 30. Currently, 26 horses are housed on the property during the semester — 12 are student boarders and 14 are school horses.
In addition to more stables, the program has begun adding the covered arena. The next step, Williamson said, will be installing the riding surface and lighting. They’ll also add bleachers, a judges booth, and an elevated viewing area.
The program’s recent success and its renovations are already attracting more students, says Athletic Director Jon Waters. There have been 37 riders at the farm this academic year, and 14 incoming students have already committed for the 2023-24 academic year.
“Our success in both the NCEA and IHSA formats, as well as the new facility with upgrades to rings, barns, riding trails, and this spring the covered ring, have been well received by prospective students, who continue to select the University of Lynchburg from all around the country,” Waters said. “We think the momentum will continue to bring dynamic students to our campus.”
He added that the University “continues to secure gifts to support the more than $500,000 in facility upgrades.” Those contributions to the project make an immediate and lasting impact — and that’s why Chandler decided to step up.
“When I learned of the University of Lynchburg’s initiative to develop its own equestrian stables and all-weather riding facilities, I wanted to help make it a reality,” Chandler said. “It goes back to my roots of [being] a boy on horseback, riding through the piney woods of South Georgia.”
Chandler, who served on the University of Lynchburg Board of Trustees from 1992-97 and 2000-03, grew up on a farm, with parents who encouraged his equestrian passion.
“My mother loved horses, so we always had horses to ride,” he said. “One way I escaped afternoon chores was to saddle up my horse and take a ride. For some reason, my mother and dad thought horseback riding was more important than doing chores, and I gladly obliged them.”
The family also raised a few quarter horses, and Chandler occasionally showed them — and won ribbons. While he himself rode Western, he says he always admired anyone who could ride on an English saddle.
“There’s nothing more beautiful than a horse and rider in perfect rhythm performing at a show, and I want to see the students at Lynchburg do just that and win blue ribbons and trophies,” Chandler said.
As someone who paid his way through college, Chandler didn’t have that same experience. Working full time, he completed his education in the evenings — at the University of Georgia, at LDS Business College (now Ensign College), at the University of Utah, and at Farmingdale State College.
He began his career as a regional accounting manager for the Singer Company’s accounting centers in Atlanta, Salt Lake City, and Long Island, New York. In 1966, he became financial controller of a paper manufacturing company, which started his career in industrial packaging. He first heard of what was then Lynchburg College about 40 years ago.
“I moved to Amherst in the summer of 1972 to assist Robert C. Macauley with his dream of building a paper mill on the James River that would be named Virginia Fibre Corporation,” he recalled.
“Bob’s thinking was to start a company in partnership with employees and to give 10% of its pre-tax profit to charity. After struggling [for] a couple of years, we did accomplish Bob’s dream, and the company started generating profit and making contributions to local charities.”
Chandler eventually met Lynchburg College President Dr. George N. Rainsford, who served from 1983-93.
“Through him, I learned more about [Lynchburg] and its mission of educating the future leaders of our country’s businesses, institutions, and organizations,” Chandler said, adding that Rainsford later invited him to join the board of trustees.
In 2002, Chandler retired as vice chairman of Greif Inc. (which purchased Virginia Fibre), now a worldwide leader in industrial packaging, having served as manager of their timber, paper mill, corrugated sheet, and container business. After retirement, Chandler and his late wife, Sandra, also a rider, moved to Statesboro, Georgia, to be closer to their son, Ray, a professor of biology at Georgia Southern University.
Chandler has served on the Georgia Southern University Foundation Board of Trustees, as well as on numerous other boards, including the NC State Pulp & Paper Foundation, Old Dominion University, and the AmeriCares Foundation, an international humanitarian organization.
He’s active in his local community, and the Chandlers have been steadfast supporters of Lynchburg for many years. They’ve given to the Robert C. Macauley Caring Award Fund, the Claytor Nature Center and its Chandler Eco-Lodge, and other projects.
“All my family members have always been interested in nature and wildlife, resulting in a son who is an ornithologist, a daughter-in-law who is a zoologist, and a grandson who is a herpetologist,” Chandler said.
“With that nature expertise in the family, we became interested in the Claytor Nature Center and were pleased to be able to help in developing the facilities on that beautiful mountainous acreage.”
The Lynchburg connection has endured over the years, despite major life changes.
In 2019, a year after Sandra’s death, Chandler married Vickie Winters, who owns an antique furniture store in Statesboro. At a recent breakfast meeting, President Dr. Alison Morrison-Shetlar and Vickie discovered they already knew each other from the antique store. Chandler’s son currently sits on Claytor’s board of trustees, along with the president’s husband, Dr. Bob Shetlar.
The Chandlers’ gift to the equestrian project is their latest — and perhaps most fervent — sign of affection for the University and the connections it forges.
“We have been blessed and are very much pleased to be able to support the University with its equestrian program,” Chandler said.
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