Starting from Scratch

“Regardless of where we come from, there’s something instilled here that makes us different. I’m thrilled to know that I’m an Auburn man.” — Charles Gavin

As Charles Gavin was growing up, the American dream must have seemed very distant, perhaps unreachable. His father died before he came into the world, and his mother scrapped to raise the family on her meager wage as a textile worker.

Gavin attended a vocational high school in Columbus, Georgia, and admits he didn’t really get serious about his grades until his junior year. He credits a “road to Damascus” conversion from lackluster student to a driven and college-bound young man. In his senior year, he took advanced math and chemistry courses, putting him on a trajectory to success.

But college still looked impossible: not because he didn’t have the grades, but because he didn’t have the money. Auburn’s tuition was $45 per quarter in the 1950s, but without help, it might have well been $1 million. The answer? Scholarships.

Gavin was off to the Plains with a scholarship and a job in hand, enrolling in the engineering program as a co-op student. He worked hard through school, so hard that he couldn’t participate in many social activities. But thanks to the Auburn Family, he never felt alone. Soon, he would be in even better company. During his time at Auburn, he fell in love with Carol Ann Hart. The two married, and Hart became a driving force behind the completion of Gavin’s education.

Triumphantly graduating in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in textile management, Gavin went to work in the carpet industry, making his way up from technical positions to a senior officer responsible for manufacturing. At 26, he was hired as plant manager for Rossville Carpet Dyeing and was tasked with building the most modern commission carpet dyeing facility in the industry.

In 1977, to boost his business acumen, he completed an executive MBA from the University of North Carolina. By 1980, he was ready to start his own business, a fateful decision that would shape the man he is today.

That fledgling company was MFG Chemical Inc., headquartered in Dalton, Georgia, which supplied dyes and specialty chemicals for the carpet industry. Fast forward 40 years, and the company now offers custom chemical manufacturing to a variety of markets, including oil fields, water treatment, paper and mining. What began as a husband-wife team now serves a broad segment of the chemical industry’s Fortune 100 companies and major international clients.

Gavin remains dedicated to serving the industry that’s given him so much. He has been a proud member of the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) for more than 60 years, having served as both president and treasurer. Through the AATCC he helped establish scholarships at Auburn, along with universities such as N.C. State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Rhode Island, helping many students achieve their dream of graduating with an engineering degree.

His dedication to supporting Auburn didn’t stop there. Scholarships, a doctoral fellowship program and professorships all bear the Gavin name, as do buildings, classrooms, suites and conference rooms across campus.

Although Gavin has been awarded some of Auburn’s highest honors — the Outstanding Textile Alumnus in 2003, a Distinguished Auburn Engineer Award in 2014, State of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame in 2016 and the Auburn Alumni Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018 — he is most proud of being an Auburn man.

“Regardless of where we come from, there’s something instilled here that makes us different. I’m thrilled to know that I’m an Auburn man,” Gavin said.

Helping Students, Changing Lives

Scholarships make an Auburn education possible for many students, and no one knows that better than Gavin. Scholarship funding was the catalyst that brought him to Auburn and the force that propelled him through his college career.

The availability of student aid gave him the foundation on which he built his career, and he vowed that if he could ever give scholarships back, he would.

Gavin has made good on that promise. He made his first scholarship gifts through the Alabama Textile Education Foundation to a scholarship that has awarded more than $700,000 to 230 recipients since its founding.

“I firmly believe in giving back, and the Gavins’ generosity is truly inspirational to me,” said Emma Adams Glover, ’18 chemical engineering and polymer and fiber engineering, who was the Alabama Textile Education Foundation Fund for Excellence recipient from 2016-18. “One day, I wish to provide scholarships as well — this generosity is paving the way for students like me to become successful and pursue their dreams.”

In recognition of Gavin’s long-standing service to AATCC, in 2017, the organization established the Charles E. Gavin, III Family Annual Scholarship in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. Since its inception, the scholarship has supported and provided assistance to a plethora of students.

“This generosity has inspired me to continue my commitment to community service throughout my college years,” said Emily Nguyen, ‘22 chemical engineering, who was the Charles E. Gavin III Family Annual Scholarship recipient from 2020-21. “I hope to eventually be fortunate enough to provide students with the monetary support needed to further their education. I wish to one day give back and leave as great of an impact on individuals as this scholarship has on me.”

Gavin’s dedication to students isn’t limited to undergraduates.

In 2018, he created the Charles E. Gavin III Endowed Doctoral Fellowship Program in the College of Engineering, which has now grown to more than 60 students.

The program is designed to recruit and retain top doctoral talent in the chemical engineering, additive manufacturing engineering and polymer and fiber engineering fields.

“The Gavin Doctoral Fellowship has assisted me greatly,” said Mercedes Haley, a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering. “I am the first in five generations of my family to leave my hometown in Kentucky. The transition to Auburn was seamless due to the extra funding. I decided to get my Ph.D. so one day I could work on cancer research. I am starting the journey to reach my goals at Auburn. This support has enabled me to follow my dreams.”

Maria L. Auad, the college’s associate dean for graduate studies and faculty development and the Gavin Professor, said the impact Gavin has had on Auburn Engineering’s graduate program, and thus its research enterprise, is immense.

“Charles Gavin’s doctoral fellowships are making a valuable impact on our graduate students’ education. His commitment to the college supports their career goals and champions research projects with faculty at Auburn University,” Auad said. “As we think of what’s going on around us today, he inspires us with the courage to make the world a better place.”

In 2021, Gavin and his daughter-in-law, Kim Kocian Gavin, created a scholarship in memory of his late son and Kim’s husband, Chuck.

The Charles Early “Chuck” Gavin IV Annual Scholarship honors both Chuck’s education in the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business and his father’s dedication to the College of Engineering. The scholarship will help fund students in each college minoring in entrepreneurship and family business or business-engineering-technology. 

Faculty Make the Difference

In American higher education, endowed professorships have become the gold standard for recruiting and retaining exceptional faculty members. One of Auburn’s top strategic priorities is to increase the number of educators and researchers who offer the intellectual capital upon which strong programs, innovative research and student success are built.

Gavin’s investments in endowed faculty professorships and chairs have been instrumental in enabling the College of Engineering to attract and retain exceptional scholars.

Through an endowed professorship, which he later elevated to an endowed chair, Gavin has supported the teaching and research of Bruce Tatarchuk, who has held the position since 2010.

Tatarchuk holds a doctoral degree in chemical engineering from the University of Wisconsin. He began his career at Auburn in 1982. He has been instrumental in the development of several patents and inventions at Auburn and is widely recognized as a leading authority on microfibrous materials used in air handling, fuel reforming and processing and fuel cell systems.

With funding from the Gavin Chair, Tatarchuk has studied and implemented nationally recognized enhancements in chemical engineering process intensification and modular manufacturing methodologies. 

“While the contributions that Charles and his family have made to our college are truly game-changing, they are only eclipsed by his personal leadership and example,” Tatarchuk said. “Charles has also given graciously of the most precious commodity of all: his time. We cherish our interactions with him as he serves as both a beacon and role model. Working with students means being a mentor, and Charles has helped to mentor the mentors. He doesn’t just know the Auburn Creed, he lives it.”

Mario Eden, dean of engineering, agrees.

“Charles and his family’s dedication to the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering has truly propelled us to become one of the nation’s premier engineering programs,” Eden said. “Their generous support of endowed chairs and professorships has allowed us to reward exceptional faculty who are inspirational to our entire college. This, coupled with the world-class research facilities that they created, has resulted in a tremendously positive impact that has forever shaped the college’s trajectory. Charles is a highly influential member of the Auburn Engineering family, and it is an honor to have him among my closest friends in the Auburn Family.”

The Gavin Engineering Research Laboratory, formerly known as the Textile Building, was renovated into a state-of-the-art research facility in 2018.

New Life for an Old Building

Auburn’s Textile Building was old; no one could dispute that. Built in 1929, it had seen numerous classes and research projects come and go, students and faculty making do with increasingly outdated equipment and spaces. But that changed in late 2014 when Gavin and Carol Ann committed funds to completely renovate the Textile Building — where he himself had taken classes — to create the Gavin Engineering Research Laboratory (GERL).

It was a labor of love that would come to fruition in 2018, encompassing not only the renovation of the building, but also the demolition of the engineering shops and L building to create better access to the GERL and to pave the way for the Brown-Kopel Engineering Student Achievement Center.

The state-of-the-art research center houses the Center for Polymer and Advanced Composites, the National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence, cutting-edge research laboratories, the Nuclear Power Generations Systems Program and numerous collaborative meeting spaces. Thanks to the Gavins, this facility has been renovated with advanced technologies to serve students for the next century.

But this was not the Gavins’ first gift to renovate engineering spaces on campus. In 2007, the university placed their names on a classroom and the dean’s suite in the Shelby Center for Engineering Technology to honor the couple’s significant contribution to the project. Students studying and learning, with the dean’s guidance, did so under the auspices of the Gavins’ dedication to the College of Engineering.

On the Court

Auburn basketball entered a new era in 2015 with the arrival of coach Bruce Pearl. With his magnetic personality and dedication to player success, he electrified the program. The Gavins always loved basketball; in fact, Carol Ann’s mother played collegiately, so she was a dedicated follower of the sport. When Pearl met the basketball-crazed Gavins for the first time, a partnership was formed — one that evolved into a devoted friendship.

Ever attentive to the needs of the basketball program, in 2015, the Gavins made the first major gift for the team during Pearl’s tenure. The Carol Ann Gavin Basketball Conference Room in Auburn Arena ­— now know as Neville Arena — became a gathering place for basketball administration. Funds from the naming of the room enabled improvements to the practice gym and court, ensuring that Carol Ann’s spirit and love for the game inspired the players.

Carrying the legacy of Carol Ann’s passion for Auburn basketball, Gavin has continued to enhance the program. In 2020, he contributed to a donor-funded initiative to replace the Auburn Arena’s video board and sound system, court lighting and a new wood court. He has also earmarked funds for future projects designed to keep Auburn’s basketball program at the top of its game for years to come.

“Charles and Carol Ann were some of the first donors I met when I came to Auburn, and they were the very first to make a big investment in our program,” Pearl said. “Carol Ann loved Auburn Basketball, and to honor her, Charles continues to invest in our success. As an engineer, Charles loves to solve problems. Their gifts to basketball have improved our practice facilities by reconfiguring our practice space; and more recently, our game-day experience by helping us improve our video board, sound system, court lights and court. Although Carol Ann is no longer with us, a picture of her and Charles hangs in our coaches’ conference room, which was named in her honor. I am blessed to see her beautiful smile and remember her positivity daily.”

The Carol Ann Gavin Garden, which is affectionately known as Carol Ann’s Garden, includes a large mixed French parterre and English knot garden as a tribute to Carol Ann’s love for flowers and gardening.

Keeping Memories Alive

Within the span of a year, Gavin’s beloved wife Carol Ann and son Chuck both passed away and Gavin became dedicated to honoring their memories.

After considering various options, Gavin decided that creating distinctive spaces in the College of Engineering and the Harbert College of Business would best represent the ways Carol Ann and Chuck loved Auburn.

Prior to Carol Ann’s death in 2016, plans were already in the works to honor her with the dedication of a garden in the College of Engineering complex — a place of quiet contemplation amid the bustle of campus. Spurred by the thought of providing a similar space in Chuck’s memory, Gavin concluded that the rooftop terrace of Horton-Hardgrave Hall in the College of Business was the perfect way to remember his son, a 1982 graduate of the college.

The Carol Ann Gavin Garden and the Chuck Gavin Terrace were both dedicated on Sept. 13, 2019, and have since been enjoyed by thousands of students, faculty and visitors.

Love Grows Here

Affectionately known as “Carol Ann’s Garden,” the oasis covers 44,000 square feet of instructional spaces, including the wind tunnel laboratory. The lovely open area unites Brown-Kopel and the Gavin Engineering Research Laboratory.

The garden features a large mixed French parterre and English knot design, symbolizing Carol Ann’s love for flowers and gardens. It has become one of the most popular spots on campus for students, faculty and visitors alike, drawing passers-by in with its promise of tranquility.

The Chuck Gavin Terrace on the fifth level of the Harbert College of Business’s 100,000 square-foot Horton-Hardgrave Hall was dedicated in memory of Chuck Gavin by his wife, Kim Kocian Gavin, and father, Charles Gavin.

Overseeing Excellence

The Gavin Terrace crowns the 100,000-square-foot Horton-Hardgrave Hall, the College of Business’s newest instructional space. Its view encompasses Jordan-Hare Stadium — a fitting vista since Chuck Gavin was a passionate Auburn football fan. The terrace has proven to be a popular gathering spot for students, and a premier space for hosting events such as athletic recruitment.

“We are deeply honored to carry the Gavin name within our college,” said Jennifer Mueller-Phillips, dean of the Harbert College of Business and Wells Fargo Professor. “The Gavin Terrace stands as a testament to Chuck Gavin’s legacy and has become a cherished focal point within Horton-Hardgrave Hall, serving as a warm welcome to members of the Auburn Family. This recognition is particularly fitting, reflecting the Gavin family’s decades-long commitment to nurturing family and Auburn University.”

Chuck began his career with the family company, MFG Chemical, and served as CEO. His dedication to putting customers first helped increase MFG’s presence in the specialty chemical business. He was active in many industry organizations, such as the Specialty Chemical Manufacturing Association, and personally supported organizations relating to the arts and conservation efforts.

“The Gavins truly have made a lasting impact on campus, not only in the physical form of Chuck’s Terrace and Carol Ann’s Garden, but also through the creation of the Gavin Engineering Research Lab and support of the basketball facilities. Numerous undergraduate and graduate students have enjoyed an Auburn education with their help, and the noteworthy professor holding the Gavin title has conducted industry-leading research,” said Chris Roberts, Auburn University president. “The Gavins’ commitment to transform our university is inspiring, and we deeply appreciate their ongoing relationship and the legacy they are leaving for generations of the Auburn Family.”

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