It is a vivid memory for Atlanta entrepreneur and benefactor Michael Coles. In 1998, he was running for the U.S. Senate, and despite the fact that his campaign was not focused on veterans, he recalls a visit from a U.S. army general. “He handed me a pamphlet. The cover said, ‘Promises Made, Promises Not Kept.’ It was about how veterans had been let down by the government, in education, health care and housing. I will never forget it.”
That recollection is what drove Coles and his wife Donna to create a $1 million scholarship fund for veterans attending Kennesaw State University starting in the fall. The past board chairman of KSU, Coles also endowed the Coles College of Business at KSU. But this endeavor is different for Coles.
Although his family didn’t have a strong connection to the military, Coles told the AJT that he was named for an uncle who died at the end of World War I. He also had another uncle in the Marine Corps who fought at Iwo Jima, a famous battleground in Japan. His wife’s father participated in World War II as well.
Toward the end of that war, the U.S. government passed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, otherwise known as the GI Bill. It provided a range of benefits for veterans returning from World War II, particularly funding for their education. “The GI Bill helped the country come back after World War II. It still exists, but it doesn’t provide enough” to help with veterans’ education, Coles said.
The Michael J. and Donna N. Coles Veterans Scholarship Endowment Fund “will help lessen the financial burden for veterans who have exhausted their GI Bill benefits before completing their degrees,” stated KSU President Pamela Whitten.
“Kennesaw State has been a longtime supporter of veterans, and it is an honor to have more than 1,400 students at the University who are veterans, service members and their dependents.”
According to Whitten, “The gift is the latest step in a long partnership between KSU and the Coles family, who have been significant supporters of KSU over the years, including transformational contributions to the Michael J. Coles College of Business.”
Coles emphasized that “there’s nothing more important than to get an education.” He hopes to expand the $1 million scholarship fund to $3 to $5 million over the next decade by encouraging other families or organizations to contribute to the fund. Besides the fact that Coles has a long-term relationship with KSU, he pointed out that the school also has a large percentage of veterans as students.
“These students will be made aware of the fund,” he said. “Everyone who uses the GI Bill” will be told of its availability. “Ours will be needs-based, but we haven’t set a top amount yet.” He guessed that it might be in the $5,000 to $10,000 range.
“We will try not to dip into the corpus of the fund. Endowments generally give out 5 percent a year,” he noted. “We just finally got the paperwork done on this. But by September, we hope to start giving out the scholarships.”
Coles, who founded the Great American Cookie Co. and was CEO of Caribou Coffee Co., has supported college students more broadly than just at KSU. From 2012 to 2018, he chaired Hillels of Georgia.
But thinking back to his senatorial campaign in the 1980s, he recalled that after meeting with many Vietnam veterans, he changed the focus of his campaign to that cause. “This Army general made a major impact on me,” he said.
Referring to veterans, he said, “They are the heroes of the country. They put their lives in harm’s way. We should make sure they have a good life.”
- Jan Jaben-Eilon
- Michael Coles
- Promises Made
- Promises Not Kept.
- Kennesaw State University
- World War I
- GI Bill
- World War II
- Michael J. and Donna N. Coles Veterans Scholarship Endowment Fund
- Pamela Whitten
- Great American Cookie Co.
- Caribou Coffee Company
- Hillel of Georgia