The renovation and expansion at Gatton College gets the thumbs up from Howard Lewis, who was a penniless youngster when he arrived at UK in the 1960s. Today, Lewis is a board member and Chairman, CEO and Founder of Family Heritage Life Insurance Company of America, based in Cleveland.
As a student, Lewis discovered a wide network of supportive professors who provided hands-on instruction and one-on-one care to give him leverage to reach his goals. Today, Lewis throws his full weight – through deeds and dollars – behind the College as one of its most stalwart supporters.
"Whoever you are and wherever you’ve come from, that curriculum – that faculty – will take you and help you move yourself to the next level. That’s what makes the College so special,” he says.
Lewis is in the midst of selling Family Heritage Life. Revenues in 2011 surpassed $182 million. The company, with 110 employees, serves more than 200,000 American families. He notes that if it weren’t for Gatton, his life might have taken a different course.
He was from a poor family in Covington, Ky., where as a third grader he worked in the school cafeteria to earn “free” school lunches. By the time he was in high school, he’d figured out that if he peeled potatoes in the school basement at 7:30 a.m., he could earn his lunch and escape ridicule from classmates.
And that’s when someone from UK showed up at his school – and altered his life trajectory. The speaker “created a vision of hope, and he was just such a beacon of promise” and inspired Lewis to enroll at the University. “What a difference he made, at least in the life of one person!” Lewis says.
I think when you’re given the opportunity to be a leader in a business or a community, you have a responsibility to everybody in that community.
He didn’t know about the existence of scholarships or financial aid, so Lewis worked 40 to 50 hours a week to support his mother while also attending classes full-time at UK’s community college in Covington. Two years later, he transferred to the main campus in Lexington and continued working his way through school in a variety of jobs. He graduated in 1970 with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree. Subsequently, Lewis received his MBA from Xavier University in Cincinnati.
That’s why today, he encourages others to dig deep. He wants alumni to recognize that if UK could change his life so dramatically, the potential to positively affect the futures of students is still just as strong.
“The money that any of us have really is not our money. The money belongs to God, and we’re temporary stewards of the money,” Lewis says. “And so, the money is intended for greater purposes than just a personal lifestyle or our personal hobbies or interests. I think when you’re given the opportunity to be a leader in a business or a community, you have a responsibility to everybody in that community. These are our neighbors.”