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Liberty land donations top $5 million

December 30, 2008 : Teresa Dunham

Liberty University once hoped to build a 125-acre lake on Liberty Mountain for student recreation, but the dream seemed impossible when LU officials learned that Virginia would require them to spend millions in wetland credits to offset the environmental impact.

Now three generous donors are giving Liberty a lake for free.

Ivy Lake, located about 15 minutes from LU in Forest, Va., is a beautiful man-made lake with a mountain vista reflected in its waters — and it’s precisely 125 acres.

“That’s what’s so providential about this,” said LU Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr.

Ivy Lake is the largest lake in the Lynchburg area. The donation, including approximately 4 acres with space for parking and lake access, comes from Lynchburg-area residents Tom DeWitt, Terry Dobyns and Richard Chaffin. DeWitt, the only Liberty alumnus among the group, transferred to LU in 1977 and earned a degree in Christian Ministries in 1979 before deciding to enter the real estate and development world.

“[I] love Liberty and everything they’re doing. We just want to be a part of what they’re doing,” said DeWitt, who fondly recalls his time spent on the LU baseball team. “Liberty’s influence has been tremendous on me, and I think tremendous on the community as well.”

DeWitt first contacted LU to ask if the school could use a lake. He figured it would be a win-win because LU could maintain the donated lake, allowing the surrounding homeowners to continue enjoying it. When LU responded positively, he made plans to sign the lake over by the end of 2008. No official estimates are in, but the property is believed to be worth up to $2 million.

“I think it’s a very healthy sign that alumni like Tom DeWitt … are starting to give to Liberty,” Falwell Jr. said. “Liberty doesn’t have that many alumni who are old enough to have accumulated significant assets, but the few who have are giving in a big way, and I think that’s very encouraging. That’s where our future endowments will originate.”

DeWitt said LU’s early alumni are finally getting to a position in life which enables them to give back.

“We’ve been in our business long enough. We’ve got our kids out of the house and those kinds of things,” he said.

Now that the lake is more than a dream for LU, officials are brainstorming all the possible ways students could use it. Rowing, sailing, kayaking, canoeing and fishing are just a few of the suggestions.

“We think this lake will be a real asset in recruiting students. It’ll be a real benefit to our existing students, and it will enhance student life and activities,” Falwell Jr. said.

Ivy Lake isn’t the only recent land donation at Liberty University.

Bob Hughes, the original developer of Candler’s Station shopping center across from the LU campus, gave the university a commercial lot adjacent to Applebee’s. Falwell Jr. conservatively estimates that this land donation is worth $1 million.

“It’s a wonderful contribution, and it is very generous of Mr. Hughes. We deeply appreciate the gift,” said Falwell Jr., who will consider whether to sell it to build the school’s endowment or use it for other practical purposes, such as a bus parking lot.

Thomas and Iris Tilley recently fulfilled their pledge to donate $250,000 for the construction of the Tilley Student Center. The student center, which opened in September of 2008, is a popular coffeehouse-style lounge where Liberty students can relax between classes, surf the Web and play a friendly game of pool. The Tilleys live in Durham, North Carolina and have supported Liberty University since the early 1970s. They are the parents of Becki Falwell, Falwell Jr.’s wife.

In addition, Glen Thomas recently donated nearly 6 ½ acres of land in the Mayflower Industrial Park on the U.S. 29/U.S. 460 Bypass just across the road from Candler’s Station Shopping Center and Liberty Mountain. Falwell Jr. estimates the land is worth more than $700,000.

“It may be a good spot for us to locate our central receiving functions,” he said.

Thomas, who briefly attended LU, also donated money for the university’s new indoor soccer field, which is now under construction near the LaHaye Student Union at Campus North.