This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 edition of Centrepiece.
Guy E. Wiseman (1885) was a successful dry goods merchant, lifelong member of Danville’s Second Presbyterian Church, and 16-year Centre trustee. When he died in 1939, he left Centre $400,000 (more than $7 million in 2018 dollars), about half his estate and at the time the largest gift in College history.
Guy E. Wiseman grew up as part of the Welsh-Wiseman department store, a Danville institution for 86 years. His grandfather G.W. Welsh began the business in 1852, selling a wide variety of dry goods, groceries, housewares, and hardware. A decade later, his father, Gavin Easton Wiseman (1858), joined the company. Eventually, all four children of Gavin and Addie Welsh Wiseman—Winston, Guy, Harry, and Ned—would follow. Each brother had his role: Winston handled finances, Ned was a director, and Guy and Harry—neither of whom ever married—were responsible for the stock, making buying trips to New York City and Chicago several times a year.
“The store grew and prospered . . . until it was developed into one of the greatest establishments . . . in the South,” said the Kentucky Advocate in 1939.
As a prominent downtown businessman, Guy Wiseman was active in his community. He was president of the Chamber of Commerce and a director for more than 30 years of Farmers National Bank. The Kentucky Advocate once noted that he “was generous to every cause.” He retired from Welsh and Wiseman in 1925, and the store eventually closed for good in 1938. Today a Chase Bank occupies its building on the corner of Main and Third.
Music was his delight. Soon after graduating from Centre, he became the organist at Second Presbyterian, and he enjoyed playing for weddings and for entertainments to raise funds for worthy causes. In 1910, he ordered his first automobile.
He remained interested in his alma mater his whole life, serving as a Centre trustee from 1923 until his death on March 23, 1939, at the age of 72. He established the Gavin Easton Wiseman valedictorian prize for female graduates as a memorial to his father, who had been president of the women’s college board for 17 years and was valedictorian of his Centre class.
Among Wiseman’s board activities, he was on the committee appointed in 1930 to consider building a new dormitory and dining room. Nine years later, his will specified $125,000 to bring that plan to fruition. Wiseman Hall, which originally housed freshmen, and an adjacent dormitory and dining hall (originally called simply the Centre dining hall and now known as 762 West Main) were dedicated at Homecoming 1940. The pillars on the back of Old Centre were added at the same time to connect the old with the new, reported the Advocate-Messenger. His will also left funds to the music department and for a new organ at the women’s campus. Much of the rest of Wiseman’s gift went into Centre’s endowment.
by Diane Johnson
October 19, 2018