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Donor Profile: Doug Witcher, A Landscaper’s Son Who Thinks Big

Whether it’s attending a Board of Trustees meeting or watching his daughter, Kinsley, ride her tricycle along the brick walkways, Doug Witcher is always amazed whenever he comes to High Point University.

He’ll see the school’s expansive $250 million Innovation Corridor behind the Wilson School of Commerce or spot the huge arena rising up beside Panther Drive, and he’ll think of the energy and vision of the man who helped make it happen -- HPU President Dr. Nido Qubein.

Witcher does know Qubein.

When he just started out in business, long before he made it big in the insurance industry, Witcher picked up leadership tips by listening to Qubein’s leadership training materials. Witcher now picks up life tips by listening to Qubein in person.

Witcher has committed almost $5 million to HPU. He has created a scholarship for students in need, supported the construction of an athletic center that bears his family’s name and created an endowment to help maintain it.

Witcher is one of the university’s few donors to create what can be seen as a philanthropic trifecta – a major gift and two endowments, one for a student scholarship and the other to maintain the Witcher Athletic Center.

He gives because High Point University is his alma mater. He’s from the Class of 1977, an alumnus with a degree in education, and his time at then-High Point College transformed him into a leader.

But he also gave because of Jack and Marsha Slane.

A decade or so ago, when Witcher thought about stepping out and supporting HPU, the Slanes talked to him about the power of philanthropy. They had supported HPU for years, and they told Witcher what they believe: You give, and your faith gives back.

“You’ll never out give the Lord,” Jack told him once.

Thanks to his old high school guidance counselor, Witcher has taken that to heart.

Witcher’s Seeds of Philanthropy

Witcher knew Chris Greene from his days as a teenager growing up and going to school in Jamestown, his hometown.

She was his guidance counselor at Ragsdale High, a school 10 minutes from HPU. After retiring from Ragsdale, she helped the United Way of Greater High Point raise money for local organizations.

That’s when she called Witcher 15 years ago. He still remembers their conversation.

“I’ve been following your career for years, Doug, and I’ve found that you’ve never given to the United Way,” she said.

“Honestly, I’ve dodged it,” he told her. “I needed every cent to run my business and take care of my family.”

“Doug, do me a favor,” she told him. “If you have a free afternoon next week, let me give you an address. I want you to come over and meet with me. I want to introduce you to a couple of people.”

The next week, Witcher went to the United Way office and listened. For the first time, he heard about the need of his community from the very people in need. No more than three people spoke, and their story hit Witcher hard.

Afterward, Green approached him with a request.

“There are two doors here,” she told him. “You go out this side door, and I’ll never call you again. But if you go out the front door, I want you to fill out a donation form. Then, I’ll give you a hug.”

Witcher wrote a check on the spot for $10,000.

“It felt so good,” he says today. “I let go, and I did something, and it was such a freeing feeling.”

That’s how it began.

For Witcher, it wasn’t about dollars and cents. He felt led.

“It was a God moment,” he says. “But I’ve had a lot of God moments in my life.”

The Lesson From Slim

Witcher is the founder and CEO of Smart Choice, a company that provides independent insurance agents access to better markets and the opportunity to establish relationships with top insurance carriers nationwide.

Smart Choice grew out of Witcher’s own business, Douglas S. Witcher Insurance. He started it in 1979, two years after graduating from High Point College, and built it into one of North Carolina’s largest independent insurance agencies.

As he did, he constantly saw the challenges of being an independent insurance agent and getting access to large insurance companies. So, in 1994, he started Smart Choice as a way for independent agents like himself to band together and break into new insurance markets.

Today, Smart Choice is the country’s fourth largest insurance network with 8,200 insurance agents.

It’s quite the accomplishment for the youngest son of a landscaper father and school secretary mother. Witcher never took a business course at High Point College, but he always believed in himself, and he always dreamed big.

“I’ve always had this idea that if you tell yourself you can do it,” Witcher says, “you can achieve it.”

Witcher turned 66 in April, and his two grown sons, Spencer and Christian, work on the marketing side of Smart Choice. Witcher, though, has stepped away from the day-to-day operations of Smart Choice to focus on the company’s philanthropy.

Smart Choice sets aside 30 percent of the company’s profits for philanthropic efforts.

As for Witcher, since 2010, he has donated more $6 million of his own money to efforts in the High Point area. That includes High Point University, the Nido & Mariana Qubein Children’s Museum and BB&T Point ballpark, where the High Point Rockers play.

When Witcher sees a need, he wants to help.

Like with the Family Service of the Piedmont, a non-profit based in High Point that helps families caught in some kind of crisis. Over the past decade, he and Smart Choice have given Family Service at least $60,000.

Or with St. Mary’s Episcopal, the church of his childhood. He headed up the stewardship campaign and committed $100,000 toward St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.

“And I had no idea how I would pay for it,” he says today, laughing

But he did. His work at St. Mary’s helped him understand the needs of his community and the need to give. In 2019, he pledged another $100,000 toward St. Mary’s Episcopal Church Music Fund.

A year later, he supported the special projects at YWCA High Point and honored its 100-year birthday with a gift of $150,000.

Ask Witcher about his earliest memories of seeing altruism in action, and he’ll mention what happened to him at 9.

He was sitting in his grandparents’ kitchen listening to a conversation between his paternal grandmother and his grandfather, a landscaper nicknamed Slim. His grandmother told his grandfather he needed to go by and collect rent from their tenants before dinner.

“I need to go by the grocery store first,” he told her.

“Now, Slim, why are you going by the grocery store first?” she asked. “Why not go get the rent money?”

“Well,” he responded. “If they don’t have money for rent, how are they going to have money for food?”

Decades later, Witcher understood the impact of that one conversation on him. But at age 9, he couldn’t fathom what that all meant. He also couldn’t fathom why he had so much difficulty in school. He later found out why.

Witcher was dyslexic.

High Point College: A Leadership Academy

When he arrived at High Point College, Witcher started over.

He had dropped out of Western Carolina University, returned to High Point to work in his dad’s landscaping company and take classes at Davidson Community College. Two of his former teachers from Ragsdale High tutored him.

A high school friend convinced him to enroll in High Point College.

When he did, he was determined to overcome his academic struggles. He turned legal pads into study guides. He would write down every word from a textbook onto a legal pad, a chapter at a time. Then, he’d underline key words to help him remember.

His grades improved, and he gained more confidence. He also had mentors like Bill Guy, the college’s dean of student affairs. They all helped him find his true calling on campus.

Witcher made extra money working in the college’s periodical department and scheduling intramural games. He also became the president of his fraternity, Theta Chi, and the dorm director at Millis Hall.

At Ragsdale, Witcher excelled in music and football. With the band, he played trumpet and made first chair. With football, he played center and linebacker and was named All-Conference.

At High Point College, he excelled at leadership.

“In a lot of ways, I learned how to tackle any problem,” he says. “College, I believe, is a time when you can make mistakes and learn from them before you get in the real world.”

Beyond A Photo

In High Point College’s 1977 yearbook, you’ll find Witcher’s senior photo on page 35. He’s wearing a sweater, jacket and an open collar shirt with his foot propped on a split-rail fence. He’s standing beside his fraternity brother, Darryl L. Schoch.

Witcher will look at that photo today and think about how far he has come.

“At that point, I felt like I got it,” he says. “I learned how to study, how to read, and that was the greatest gift. I knew I could accomplish things that I couldn’t accomplish in high school. And if I can do that, I knew I could do anything in life.

“That just opened the door for me. It wasn’t because I was making good grades. It also was because my self-confidence grew.”

For that reason, Witcher describes going to High Point College as the turning point in his life.

“I had crossed so many hurdles, so many challenges,” he says. “I graduated from college, and no one thought I could do it.”

But Witcher did. And look what happened.


'I Want To Do Something'

HPU’s athletic center has a big statue of a panther in front. But that’s not the only thing you notice.

Walk inside, and you’ll find the headquarters for the university’s two nationally ranked programs – men’s and women’s lacrosse. The wide halls lead to high-ceiling spaces reserved for coaches, players, athletic training, academic services as well as spacious rooms for donors and the press watching games in Vert Stadium.

It’s a $9 million, 36,000-square-foot clubhouse loved by players and coaches alike, and it’s considered one of the top sports-specific facilities in the nation.

It’s a place that bears the Witcher family’s name.

“Dr. Qubein and I had a lot of discussions about what and why I would give, and he would say it’s all about legacy,” Witcher says. “I wanted to leave something for my children, and I wanted to stir that something in someone else’s heart to give.

“I wanted them to say, ‘Doug gave. I should give as well.’ That’s what I wanted to do. And I wanted to build hope. I wanted students to know they can make it, too.”

But those thoughts first took root when Witcher talked with Jack and Marsha Slane.

“I remember telling them, ‘I don’t have the money to go out and do something, and that’s when I remember Jack telling, ‘You can’t out give the Lord,’” Witcher said. “That was it. When he told me that, I went in to see Dr. Qubein. I told him, ‘I want to do something.’”

"I've Been Blessed"

Witcher sat in front of his parents at the athletic center’s unveiling ceremony in September 2014. He was surrounded by a crowd of people, many of whom he knew from his various stages of his life, from high school athlete to fraternity president.

Now, they came to see the new Doug Witcher, the philanthropist.

They listened to Qubein.

“When asked to stand tall and support the mission of this institution, Doug Witcher said ‘Count me in,’” Qubein told the crowd. “We are able to do many of the things we’ve done on our campus because alumni are willing to give back.”

They also listened to Dan Hauser, HPU’s athletic director.

“This is going to change High Point athletics forever,” Hauser said. “No doubt about it.”
Hauser called it “a day of transformation.”

It was a day of transformation for Witcher as well.

He looked out over rows of familiar faces and began.

“While I did not seek this honor, I am deeply grateful for the kindness in extending it to me,” he said. “The name of this building will be a constant reminder to live worthy of the trust you’ve placed in me, as well as never losing sight of the significance this university has played in my life and the lives of thousands of students who walked these halls.

“I’ve been blessed to be able to make a gift to this great university for its role in helping me begin to understand who I am as a person, what gifts and talents God has blessed me with, and for providing me with the education that has allowed me to use my gifts and talents to serve God and his plan for my life.”

Afterward, many people came up to him to thank him. That included a person from his collegiate past – Bill Guy, his mentor and former dean of student affairs at High Point College.

“I’m so proud of you,” Guy told him.

Philanthopy's Human Touch

Witcher loves his hometown of High Point, and he does love spending time at Witcher Athletic Center.

“Oh, my Lord, I love going by there,” he says. “It reminds me of what you want to do in life. You want to do things that are purposeful.”

It’s reminded of that every time he walks the halls of the Witcher Athletic Center – or gets a call from Zach Haines.

Witcher knows Haines’ dad well, and he watched Haines grow up on the soccer fields of Jamestown. Haines is now the head coach of HPU’s D-1 soccer team, and he often calls Witcher.

“Zach,” Witcher says. “How are you?”

“Well, I’m sitting in my office,” Haines responds, “In your building.”

On Doug Witcher

Family: Two sons, Spencer, 28; Christian, 24; one daughter, Kinsley, 7

Hobbies: Traveling; reading; and splitting time between his four homes, two in California, a third on Bald Head Island and fourth in High Point.

Books on the table beside his favorite chair: “Soft Thorns,” by Bridgett Devoue, “I Am Her Tribe” by Danielle Doby, “Pillow Thoughts” by Courtney Peppernell, “Walden and Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau

Recent award: The 2019 Outstanding Philanthropist of High Point by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, an organization based in Virginia

Philanthropy is: “… thinking big, giving big and never looking back.”

The city of High Point is: “…in transition. In my mind, it’s working to reinvent itself. I want to make sure it’s going in the right direction.”

High Point University is: “… an amazing school. It provides a holistic education, and not just academic. It teaches students how to be adults, how to dress, how to eat in any venue in any city in the world, and how to believe that anything is possible. People are doing things at High Point that they never thought they could do. Being around Dr. Qubein gives you energy.”

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