June 17, 2021 | By: Aimee Nielson

Long-time supporters of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Food and Environment, Gene and Jean Cravens are establishing a distinguished professorship in the college. The Cravens are donating commercial real estate and cash to fund the Gene and Jean Cravens Distinguished Professorship in Land-Grant Service.    

The land-grant mission is the backbone of the work in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment through teaching, research and extension,” said Nancy Cox, dean of the college and UK vice president for land-grant engagement. “We are committed to improving Kentuckians lives through this mission and teaching students to solve real-world problems. This professorship will help us do all of those things with excellence.” 

The Cravens grew up in Daviess County, where they met at a party during high school. They’ve been married 65 years and have lived a life of service to their communities, serving on nonprofit boards and traveling abroad to build homes with Habitat for Humanity. They also give credit to UK for influencing their life at all stages. Gene Cravens graduated from UK with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture in 1958, and Jean Cravens earned a bachelor’s in education in 1959.  

Gene spent 40 years working for New York Life and was involved in commercial real estate on the side. He said he tried to build one building per year. The property they are donating to fund this professorship is on Southland Drive in Lexington. 

“Cliff Hagan used to have Cliff Hagan’s Ribeye on Southland Drive. I bought that from him and his partner, and then we began to buy other properties in the surrounding area,” Gene Cravens said. “I’ve had this one for about 25 years.” 

Most donors don’t automatically think of property as their first line of giving, but the Cravens said they see it as a way to give back to UK and the university’s built-in platform that spreads the research of the college to every county in the state through the Cooperative Extension Service.  

“Many people in our stage of life have been good savers, and we ought to be giving back to our universities or to some charity,” Gene Cravens said. “We’ve got much more than we need, and we’d like to improve as many people’s lives as we can.” 

“Our lives have revolved a good bit around UK, and I’m just delighted that we can do something to help in some way,” Jean Cravens added. “We all have so much, and I think we are obligated to share. We try to live out our faith by doing that.” 

The Cravens were recently nominated as outstanding philanthropist award recipients in Vero Beach, Florida, where they now reside. They have supported UK in the past with funds for the Cravens Family Scholarship in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, The Arboretum, the Gene Cravens Alpha Gamma Rho Scholarship, a planned gift for UK HealthCare and many other UK programs.  

Funds generated by the Cravens Family Distinguished Professorship will allow the vice president of land-grant engagement to support innovative initiatives related to community support throughout Kentucky. An example of using the fund involves creating multi-disciplinary student teams to work through their respective extension office to tackle a local challenge such as food insecurity, safe housing for the disabled or economic development. 

Funds could be used to support student travel, survey work and communication efforts within the community as they work together to tackle a real-time issue. Funds could also support bringing in experts who have made a difference in communities outside of Kentucky, focused on rapid results to solve real-time community challenges.  

The university could bring specialists to communities to provide training, consulting and programming specific to the needs of the area. While extension agents provide some of these services daily, UK’s broader service to the community may come in the form of medical expertise or small-business development, which the vice president may coordinate and fund. 

“This gift allows us to take the mission of the land-grant system to the next level,” Cox said. “It is an innovative way for us to accelerate our work throughout Kentucky.” 

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