As alumni, students and friends of Georgia State return this week for homecoming, the Panther football team is getting a major boost from a close friend of their coach.
R. Charles “Charlie” Loudermilk, the founder and chairman of Aaron’s, one of America’s top furniture and appliance rental companies, gave $1 million to the GSU football program for a new state-of-the-art strength and conditioning center. The center will help GSU’s student-athletes become stronger, fitter and safer on the field.
“This gift is another step forward and another powerful statement about the commitment of Georgia State University and our backers to our program,” Panther head football coach Bill Curry said.
As a symbolic honor, GSU asked Loudermilk to handle the coin flip at the Panthers’ Sept.2 opening game. Heads or tails helps determines which team kicks off.
Chance also kicked off the friendship that led to this philanthropy. In a fitting circularity, the relationship began at a fitness center, back in the early 1980s when Panther Head Football Coach Bill Curry was coaching at Georgia Tech.
“His sister ran an exercise studio in the ground floor of our building,” says Loudermilk, referring to Aaron’s headquarters at the time. “I got to know her family, and I don’t know anyone better than Bill Curry.”
When Loudermilk received an honorary degree from Georgia State in 2007, Curry recalls, he promised to help if a football team got established. “Charlie Loudermilk is one of the most generous human beings I know. All you have to do is walk around Atlanta and see all that he has done,” Curry says.
Relationships are the force behind Loudermilk’s giving to GSU. Most prominent has been his bond with civil rights leader Andrew Young, which led to Loudermilk’s $500,000 gift in 2006 to create the Jean Childs Young Fellowship at GSU’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.
“Andy has connected me more with Georgia State because of his work there,” says Loudermilk, who co-chaired Young’s first Atlanta mayoral campaign in 1981. “He’s a liberal black Democrat, and I’m a conservative white Republican, but that doesn’t mean a lot with us. We trust each other and admire each other enough. We’ve had different opinions but that doesn’t make me admire him less.”
According to Mary Beth Walker, dean of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Loudermilk’s generosity toward AYS was a “fitting and touching tribute to the late Jean Childs Young and was also transformative for the AYS and our students.”
Walker adds that Loudermilk’s gift has been instrumental in helping the AYS recruit and attract the best and brightest graduate students. “Top public affairs graduate programs are very competitive, so it is critical that the AYS is able to offer deserving students the opportunity to receive substantial financial support throughout their program of study,” she says. “I am grateful and honored to count Mr. Loudermilk as one of our most dedicated friends and supporters.”
Loudermilk’s earliest ties to Georgia State came through the GI Bill. After serving in the Navy in World War II, he took classes in business and psychology, including one held in a parking deck. “You can have a good education in a one-room schoolhouse and a lousy education in a most magnificent schoolhouse,” he said. “It has to do with the teacher, and at Georgia State in the late 1940s, I had three good ones.”
In 1955, he and a partner used a $500 loan to buy 300 chairs, which they then rented to auctions for 10 cents per chair, per day. Today Aaron’s has more than 1,800 stores across America and Canada.
Why didn’t he sit on his wealth? “I would hate to think of Atlanta without the education that Georgia State has done for so many thousands and thousands of students,” Loudermilk said. “I know, giving to Georgia State, this gift will not only help the school but the whole of Atlanta and Georgia. It’s kind of a no-brainer to contribute to.”
—By Michelle Hiskey; Contact Kim Cretors, (404) 413-3424