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$14.5 million from Bill Gatton earmarked for new 10-acre park
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$14.5 million from Bill Gatton earmarked for new 10-acre park

“I have made dozens of trips to Lexington with Mr. Gatton over the past 36 years,” said Danny L. Dunn, trustee of The Bill Gatton Foundation. “It did not matter whether the trip was for business, charity or to go to a University of Kentucky game, he always looked forward to visiting Lexington. He had a great love and appreciation for the city.”

“Mr. Gatton would tell you that Lexington has been good to him, and he is pleased that he can help fund the cost of this new park. He would be honored and humbled that the park officials would want to name the park ‘Gatton Park on the Town Branch.’ This park will be a tremendous asset for the city and the people of Lexington. The Bill Gatton Foundation is grateful to be a part of what will be a beautiful place where people of all ages can spend time that will be peaceful, quiet, fun and full of special activities.”

The $14.5 million donation, which is pledged over several years starting in 2025, will help the organization complete Phase I and Phase II of its capital campaign, including $7 million for an operational reserve and the seeding of the park’s endowment. The remainder of the funds will go toward planned capital improvements and the park’s future office space, which will be located on or near the park.

“This incredible gift allows our organization to focus our future fundraising efforts on an annual sustainability campaign and growing our endowment, which will ensure the park will be operated, programmed, maintained and sustained at the highest standards for decades to come,” said Allison Lankford, executive director of the park.

“One of the goals of his foundation is to build community, and that is exactly what this park will do through the welcoming space and diverse, enriching programs we provide to all segments of our community. This gift will benefit residents and visitors to Lexington for generations to come and is yet another example of Mr. Gatton’s tremendous legacy of philanthropy that makes a lasting impact and improves people’s lives.”

“While we understand many will reference the park as Gatton Park going forward, we intentionally kept Town Branch in the name to pay homage to its history and location as well as to reflect what we have affectionately called this space for many years — back when it was just a dream,” Lankford added. “It is through the generosity of The Bill Gatton Foundation and so many others that we are one step closer to making the park a reality.”

Construction of the park is underway and anticipated to be completed in late summer 2025.

Gatton Park on the Town Branch is being built by the community for the community with private donations. Led by civic leaders and philanthropists, Gatton Park on the Town Branch is working to transform acres of parking in the Manchester Parking Lot behind Rupp Arena into an inviting, dynamic, fun, and uncommonly beautiful green space that will reflect the culture and spirit of Lexington. The Park will be funded, programmed and maintained through private donations and grants. Visit for more information.

The Bill Gatton Foundation honors the life and legacy of Carol Martin “Bill” Gatton, a successful businessman, generous philanthropist, and bridge builder.

Born and raised in a tight-knit farming family in Bremen, Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, Carol Martin “Bill” Gatton loved agriculture and farm life.

Drawing inspiration from both his parents and his experiences on the farm, Bill acquired invaluable knowledge about entrepreneurship, leadership and the value of hard work. He showed early signs of his strong entrepreneurial streak at the age of six when he approached a local farmer about his interest in buying the man’s farm. A few years later Bill did in fact help acquire a piece of that land, which was put in his older sister’s name, and by the age of 12 he had doubled his investment. On a warm summer day, farm chores completed, you could find young Bill on the side of the road, selling watermelons.

Bill was valedictorian of his high school graduating class and was elected Kentucky’s Future Farmers of America President during his senior year of high school. He then went on to the University of Kentucky, where he graduated in 1954 with a degree in business administration. Bill financed part of his education by working part-time as a sales representative for L. R. Cooke Chevrolet, an auto-dealership in Lexington, Kentucky, foreshadowing things to come. Upon graduating, Bill served two years of active duty as an officer in the Army.

Encouraged by one of his professors from the University of Kentucky, Bill decided to go to the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School for a master’s degree in business administration with an emphasis on finance and banking. Upon graduating in 1958, Bill had many job offers but decided to strike out on his own. He often said, “When I finished graduate school, I had offers from prestigious companies in the East and I almost accepted a few of them, but I really wanted to go into business for myself. I knew if I took a job with one of those firms, I would never leave because the benefits would be so good.”

A year after graduating in 1959, Bill established Bill Gatton Motors in Owensboro, Kentucky, and acquired a Volkswagen franchise, becoming the youngest Volkswagen dealer in the country. He went on to incorporate an additional 10 automobile dealerships in Tennessee, Alabama, and Texas. The automobile businesses gave Bill what he called “seed” money that he used to invest in banking and real estate. From 1981 to 2002 he was chairman and a major stockholder of Area Bancshares of Owensboro, Kentucky, the largest bank holding company headquartered in Kentucky at the time.  Bill also had large stock holdings in a number of regional and national banks. He had significant real estate holdings in Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and Alabama, from the early 1990’s up until his death.  Bill loved the automobile business but most of his wealth came from banking and real estate.

Bill’s automobile business brought him to Upper East Tennessee in 1967 where he purchased the Chevrolet and Cadillac franchises in Bristol, Tennessee. He enjoyed living in Upper East Tennessee and made it his home for the last fifty five years of his life, but it is important to note that his heart never left Kentucky. He was known to say, when crossing the Tennessee state line on trips back to Kentucky, “the sun just got a little brighter, the grass a little greener, and the flowers more beautiful”. He never forgot his roots and he loved his “old Kentucky Home, far away”.

Over the course of his seven decades in business, Bill had many interests and was very successful. However, making money was not nearly as important to Bill as giving it away, and he built his businesses with this goal in mind. In 1985, he established The Bill Gatton Foundation, with his eye on enabling future generations to succeed. Over the years, he made dozens of gifts, always with a particular focus on education in Kentucky, Northeast Tennessee, and Southwest Virginia.

To know Bill was to know that his favorite poem was ‘The Bridge Builder’ by Will Allen Dromgoole.  He would get choked up when he read this ode to an old man who built a bridge over a sullen tide for others who followed after him. Being a bridge builder was at the heart of who Bill was and everything he did.

“When I was 30, I thought I would retire at 40. When I got to 40, I thought I will wait until I am 50. When I got to be 50, I decided I would hold off until I was 60. When I turned 60, I decided I never would retire. A lot of people ask me why does a fellow like you want to keep on working. It’s simple. I want to keep making money so I can give it away to worthwhile causes.”


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