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The Power of Distance Learning

Shannon Hair smilingShannon Hair and his mother were abandoned by his father when he was just a toddler. It was his mother's attitude that they could make it out of public housing by sheer determination and hard work. Shannon said, "My life could have ended up very differently. I should have been a statistic."

After graduating in 1996 from George Washington High School, Shannon began thinking about college. Not wanting to leave his family, his high school sweetheart, or his community, he enrolled in Danville Community College's (DCC) two-year program, majoring in general engineering and drafting. He graduated in 1998, but it wasn't easy. Soon after he began, he learned that the program was going to end. Shannon fought for it, first by enlisting his mother's help and then talking to the dean of Engineering & Business. When that failed, he went to the top—to President Carlyle Ramsey. That discussion led to a friendship between the two men that has lasted more than two decades. And the program remains to this day!

While still at DCC, Shannon began campaigning for a job at Dewberry Inc., a large engineering firm in the Danville area. Eight months of relentless calls paid off when he was hired as a temporary replacement for a CADD technician being deployed. That five-month job turned into a 12-year career, ending with him as manager of economic development. Meanwhile, he and Heather married, and Shannon decided to go back to school. He chose ODU's Teletechnet Center.

"Thanks to ODU, I was the first member of my family to graduate with a four-year degree. The only time I actually put my feet on the ODU campus was when I graduated. Heather, pregnant with Jackson, our firstborn, and other members of my family came to watch me walk across the stage. It was a proud accomplishment."

While still at Dewberry, Shannon told Dr. Ramsey that one day he would like to return to DCC and run the Educational Foundation. He already had strong relationships with many local civic organizations, having served on the boards of the Chamber of Commerce and Danville Family YMCA. "I was thinking that would be a great job when I reached my 40s or 50s," he said.

In the busy summer of 2010, while welcoming Dawson, their second-born, and preparing Jackson for kindergarten, Shannon, 32, received an all-important phone call from Dr. Ramsey inviting him to meet. When they sat down, Dr. Ramsey said, "The time is now. Your predecessor is leaving." A dream had come true! In October 2010, Shannon was named director of development at DCC and executive director of the Educational Foundation. He was to lead fundraising activities and manage the college's first major gifts campaign.

"I was charged with raising $7 million for scholarships and other campus initiatives," he said. In October 2010, the foundation's endowment was roughly $3 million; by January 2013, it was well over $6 million, with over 30 newly created scholarships. "Raising $7 million in less than 24 months has been exhausting, but very rewarding," Shannon said. "I am amazed and humbled at our success. A building, an auditorium and classrooms have all been named. It's been so much fun, that most times, it doesn't even feel like work!"

It was at the chancellor's annual retreat in the summer of 2011, that Shannon attended a planned giving session and learned that he could take out a life insurance policy, make Danville Community College the owner and beneficiary, and get a tax deduction for the premium payment. He and Heather discussed the type of legacy they wanted to leave and decided that, at his death, the policy will endow several funds.

"I felt so great about what we'd done that I wanted to do something similar for ODU," Shannon said. ODU is now the beneficiary of a whole life policy on Shannon, which will fund a scholarship in their names, to benefit a Danville—or Virginia—engineering student to take classes through ODU's Teletechnet Center.

"We're doing this to pay it forward," he said. "Working in the educational arena has increased my passion for these institutions. Heather and I wanted to promote them through a legacy gift." Shannon added, "If I had to do it all over again, I'd do the same thing. I really didn't want to leave my community. ODU gave me that opportunity to stay and invest in my surroundings...and it's all paying off now!"

Have you made a provision to leave a future gift to Old Dominion University? If so, please let us know by contacting Barbara M. Henley, CFRE at 757-683-6563 or or Brett A. Smiley, CFRE at 757-683-4735 or

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