Coca-Cola has donated $1 million to Columbus State University. Here’s why.

Why did Coca-Cola Foundation donate $1 million to CSU?

Coca-Cola Foundation president Helen Smith Price and Columbus State University president Chris Markwood discuss the foundation's $1 million donation to CSU.
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Coca-Cola Foundation president Helen Smith Price and Columbus State University president Chris Markwood discuss the foundation's $1 million donation to CSU.

Bill Turner (1922-2017) embodied servant leadership and promoted it through his years as a philanthropist in Columbus.

Turner, who was chairman of the W.C. Bradley Co., served on the Coca-Cola board from 1980-96. While mentoring Servant Leadership Program students from Columbus State University, he would offer them classic bottles of Coke along with wisdom — in the town where Dr. Pemberton invented the soft drink’s secret formula.

Now, the university’s place that’s been dedicated to teaching this concept in Columbus for nearly two decades will be named in his honor.

The Coca-Cola Foundation has awarded $1 million to CSU to establish the William B. Turner Center for Servant Leadership.

The gift was given to support the undergraduate Servant Leadership Program and to integrate CSU’s Servant Leadership Core Value into staff and faculty enrichment and leadership development programs.

“We believe it is critical that we all support the next generation of leaders,” Helen Smith Price, president of the Coca-Cola Foundation, said in a news release. “We are proud to have been one of the first supporters of the Servant Leadership Program at Columbus State University almost 20 years ago. Due to the success of the program, we are now providing this grant to help ensure that Mr. Turner’s vision for the program continues for years to come.”

Turner was instrumental in initiating CSU’s focus on servant leadership. He launched the first discussions about a servant leadership program and provided financial support of early servant leadership initiatives.

The center’s programs include:

The undergraduate Servant Leadership Program, which provides selected students an annual stipend and leadership development throughout their undergraduate career.

An internal leadership development program for faculty and staff called L.I.V.E. CSU.

A food pantry that serves CSU students.

This endowment funded by the Coca-Cola Foundation will help the center continue and expand these programs.

“Mr. Turner’s vision of servant leadership is deeply ingrained in the culture of CSU,” Chris Markwood, the university’s president, said in the news release. “The undergraduate program provides CSU students with a one-of-a-kind experience, unmatched by any other university, and the leadership development opportunities for faculty and staff help to shape service-minded leaders for our university, community and world. This generous gift by the Coca-Cola Foundation embodies Mr. Turner’s passion for servant leadership and it will empower CSU to share these important values with many generations to come.”

CSU’s undergraduate Servant Leadership Program was launched in 1999 by Turner, former Muscogee County School Board chairwoman Mary Sue Polleys and former CSU president Frank Brown. Turner helped fund the program and solicited other donations for stipend endowments, which has allowed the program to provide $2,500 annual stipends to 60 CSU students over the last 20 years

The announcement of the $1 million gift was made Tuesday at the Servant Leadership Program’s annual celebration breakfast, which recognizes the work of the program’s seniors. This year’s senior class partnered with the Anne Elizabeth Shepherd Home, a program of Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services that provides residential care for females ages 7-18. The 23 CSU seniors helped support the home by refurbishing outdoor areas and engaging with residents through creative mentoring activities.

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.