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Stanley Pigman - Seeing Blue and Making a Difference

November 17, 2016

“If it hadn’t been for an engineering scholarship, Stan Pigman would never have been able to enroll at the University of Kentucky in 1977,” observes Mike Richey, UK vice president for philanthropy. “And if it hadn’t been for his persistence in study and special help from his professors, Stan would never have graduated with a degree that prepared him for the extraordinary success he has experienced.

Stan and Karen Pigman make a difference in the lives of Kentucky engineering majors at UK.
Stan and Karen Pigman make a difference in the lives of Kentucky engineering majors at UK.

“If it hadn’t been for an engineering scholarship, Stan Pigman would never have been able to enroll at the University of Kentucky in 1977,” observes Mike Richey, UK vice president for philanthropy. “And if it hadn’t been for his persistence in study and special help from his professors, Stan would never have graduated with a degree that prepared him for the extraordinary success he has experienced.“Today, Stan is keenly aware of the difference a scholarship can make in a young person’s life, and the impact that mentoring can make. He and his wife Karen are not only providing scholarships for many first generation college students from Kentucky, they are also sponsoring innovative leadership training opportunities and personally investing themselves in the lives of the young people their philanthropy touches.”

Growing up in Eastern Kentucky

L. Stanley Pigman was born in Knott County and grew up in this rural coal mining area of the state. He was the sixth of eight children. His father and uncle worked together in highway construction and his father supervised a small crew. Pigman worked on this crew in the summers during his high school years.

He also became an entrepreneur at an early age. His family grew vegetables, and he was allowed to market part of the green bean crop each season and keep the proceeds. During the school year, he was a contract photographer, taking and developing pictures for special functions and the high school yearbook.

He recalls, “My father was very influential in my life. He was all about work, work, work. I get my task-oriented approach to things and my work instinct from him.”

Pigman also had other mentors in his early life. “Sally Patterson was a missionary at Scripture Memory Mountain Mission in Knott County. She was instrumental in getting me involved in the community and church from first grade on. She ran Cub Scouts, and I was a part of that. She thought that a man should direct the Boy Scouts program, and she asked Jim Miller, a young faculty member teaching German at nearby Alice Lloyd College, to do that.”

This professor became more than a Boy Scout leader to Pigman. When Pigman and several of his fellow sixth-grade boys asked Miller to teach them German after school, Miller agreed. Pigman explains that eventually all the other boys dropped out, but he did not. Consequently, Miller had him come to his classes on the Alice Lloyd campus and study languages alongside the college students.

Miller’s wife Anna also taught at the college. “I almost became their kid,” Pigman says. “I took a bus to campus four days a week. They opened my eyes to learning, and I knew I wanted to go to college.

“And from working with Dad’s highway crew in the summers, I knew I wanted to become an engineer. I realized that the most respected person on the job was the engineer who could solve problems and do things that others couldn’t. I also wanted to build things and be involved in projects.”

Attending UK on a scholarship

“Dad worked for the R.R. Dawson Bridge Co. for 20 years,” Pigman continues. “I applied for the college scholarship the company offered, but I didn’t receive it. Then one day, the guidance counselor at my high school came to me and said, ‘Will you study mining engineering at the University of Kentucky if you get a scholarship?’ My answer was ‘Yes!’”

The scholarship was provided by the Commonwealth of Kentucky to encourage mining in the state.

Pigman was just 17 years old when he enrolled at the University of Kentucky. “Coming from a rural area, I thought the UK campus was huge,” he confides.

“I soon learned that academically, I was woefully unprepared in calculus. I simply had not been exposed to abstract math in high school. By December of my first semester, I had flunked calculus. At that point, I knew I had a decision to make — I could either stay at UK and figure things out, or I could go home.”

He decided to stay in college and make a determined effort to succeed as an engineering major. In his second semester, he attended every tutoring session available in calculus and began to make passing grades.

“I had lots of struggles in school,” he continues. “But I made it through with help at many turns along the way from my professors, including Dr. Kot von Unrug who taught rock mechanics. I’ve had a lifelong friendship with him, and I’ve called upon him many times for consultation.”

To earn money, Pigman continued his photography business on campus, taking pictures at fraternity, sorority and other functions. After his freshman year, he was able to go to work in the coal mines during the summers and other breaks from school.

Achieving entrepreneurial success

Pigman began his career in 1981 as a project engineer with a new mining company, Sierra Coal, a subsidiary of General Electric. “I had several job offers when I graduated from UK,” he remembers. “But I chose this one because it was close to home in Eastern Kentucky.”

In 1983, he moved to Lexington and became a market analyst with Old Ben Coal, a subsidiary of BP. When the operation moved to Cleveland, Pigman joined Pyro Mining in Evansville, Indiana, as a market analyst and then progressed into sales.

In 1992, he and two colleagues formed Sugar Camp Coal. In 1997, they partnered with Black Beauty Coal in Evansville where he became vice president of marketing in 2000. A year later, he formed his own company, Pigman Coal Sales, providing sales services to an independently owned start-up company for a new mining project in western Kentucky.

In 2004, he sold Pigman Coal Sales to Peabody Coal, and since that time, he has formed three companies that own and lease coal properties — Mackey Development, Buck Creek and Delaware Resources.

“I’ve spent almost all of my career in sales,” he says. “I’m an entrepreneur. My skills are all related to building a business.”

Pigman relocated his company headquarters to High Point, North Carolina, in 1999 where his wife of 21 years, Sheila Nickles Pigman, a UK alumna and insurance executive, had bought her own agency. She died of cancer in 2002.

Pigman continued to live in High Point and this is where he met his wife Karen Pigman. She remembers, “Sheila had passed away, and my husband had passed away. Stan lived next door to my sister and brother-in-law, and they invited him to our family Thanksgiving dinner so he wouldn’t be alone on the holiday. We talked and cried and got to know each other. And here we are 12 years later.”

Stan and Karen Pigman make a difference in the lives of Kentucky engineering majors at UK.

Transforming lives at his alma mater

In 1999, Stan Pigman decided to establish a scholarship program at UK for full-time undergraduate engineering students from Kentucky with financial need. Since then, he has expanded the program several times and has become more and more involved with the student recipients.

Today, Stan and Karen Pigman are providing major scholarships for 28 engineering students each year. All totaled, more than 80 students have benefited so far from their generosity. The scholarship recipients are known as Pigman Scholars.

Preference is given first to students from Knott or Floyd counties; then Letcher, Perry, Pike, Johnson, Leslie, Harlan, Magoffin or Breathitt counties; then Union, Webster, Hopkins, Muhlenberg, Henderson, Ohio, McLean or Daviess counties; and then to students from any other county in Kentucky.

“Most of our scholarship recipients are the first person in their family to attend college, and they need considerable help,” Stan Pigman explains.

He and his wife take great personal interest in each student, and mentor them to be successful college students and successful engineers. The Pigmans host informal pizza parties at their Lexington condominium to get to know the students, and they provide encouragement and practical advice throughout the year. As UK basketball season ticket holders, the Pigmans attend the Wildcats’ home games at Rupp Arena and pay for a third seat so they can take one of their scholarship recipients with them to the games.

They also host an annual luncheon for all the scholarship recipients and their families in the Hilary J. Boone Center on campus. Karen Pigman says, “We usually have more than 80 guests, and often the moms come to me to say thank you for helping their kids.

“We talk about our students all the time with my parents, Earl and Kitty Congdon, who also live in High Point. Sometimes they come to Lexington with us to meet the students. And recently, Mom and Dad decided to fund half the scholarships we are providing.”

The scholarships are also available to Pigman Scholars who pursue an MBA at UK, and each recipient is eligible to receive a stipend to cover an engineering study abroad experience after successfully completing 90 semester hours of credit.

“They need this overseas experience to know what the world is like,” Karen Pigman observes. “Many of them have never been on a plane.”

“The College of Engineering needs more need-based scholarships, and Kentucky needs more engineers,” Stan Pigman emphasizes. “Every surrounding state has a higher percentage of engineers per capita than Kentucky.”

Mentoring student leaders

In addition to the scholarship program, the Pigmans also sponsor a leadership development institute.

“I’ve always been aware of my shortcomings that have hampered my career,” Stan Pigman shares. “Areas such as writing and public speaking. We therefore decided to start a leadership development institute in the College of Engineering to help students in these and other areas.”

Fifteen students per year are accepted into the highly competitive program. Nominations of the most outstanding students in each academic department are made by faculty department chairs, and the final selections are made by a committee appointed by the dean of the College of Engineering. Each year’s group selected for the leadership development institute represents the college’s top seniors.

The program consists of a weekly symposium each spring semester and an all-expense paid field trip to Washington during spring break. The students chosen for the leadership development institute are called Pigman Leadership Scholars.

“We’ve had many interesting guest speakers in the symposiums including a former governor, CEOs of corporations and many other successful individuals telling their stories,” Stan Pigman notes. “We also bring in UK faculty to help students learn public speaking and writing skills. Other guest speakers emphasize the importance of good social skills including sending thank you notes and proper etiquette. We even take the students to the Boone Center where they learn to navigate a formal meal laid out with all the table settings.”

He continues, “We’ve also begun a program where students go to dinner with a CEO. After the symposium, each of our guest speakers will join a group of the students for a meal and conversation.”

The Pigmans accompany the Pigman Leadership Scholars on the spring break trip to Washington. The students tour the national landmarks during the day, and each evening, outstanding UK alumni in the area, other local successful individuals and even members of the U.S. Congress join the group for dinner and conversation.

“I look upon this whole leadership development program as a confidence builder for students as they enter the work force,” Stan Pigman shares. “I’m happy to be involved with engineering majors because I know the field. It’s where I’m best suited to help. And having contact with all these young people is very meaningful.”

The Pigmans keep up with their scholarship and leadership development institute students after they graduate. Many in the Lexington area attend the Pigmans’ pizza parties and offer advice to current students. Stan Pigman is often called upon for career counseling from graduates. And in September 2017, Stan and Karen Pigman will host the 150 engineering majors who have been Pigman Leadership Scholars and their families for a special weekend at their home in North Carolina to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the leadership development institute.

Impacting future generations

To make the scholarship and leadership development programs he has begun permanent, Stan Pigman is endowing them and strengthening the scholarship program through his estate plan. He is also establishing two endowed faculty positions in power engineering.

The L. Stanley Pigman Distinguished Chair in Power will be held by a tenured faculty member, and the L. Stanley Pigman Faculty Fellowship in Power will be held by a non-tenured junior faculty member who shows promise in the field. Working cooperatively, both positions will enhance power engineering education at the university. These new faculty positions will also bolster UK’s certification program in power engineering, which is known as the Power and Energy Institute of Kentucky (PEIK).

“The work force in the power industry is graying,” Stan Pigman explains. “And the University of Kentucky is located where there is power generation all around us. The College of Engineering has the opportunity to develop one of the top programs in the nation in this area and prepare engineering majors for jobs in the power industry.”

Helping others in extraordinary ways

Stan Pigman serves on the College of Engineering Dean’s Advisory Council, the Campaign Steering Committee, the Mining Engineering Foundation Board and the PEIK Advisory Board. For his career achievements and commitment to community service and his alma mater, he has been inducted into the college’s Hall of Distinction as a role model for engineering students.

He is also a Life Member of the UK Alumni Association and has served on its Alumni Expert Network. Karen Pigman is a founding and current member of the UK Women & Philanthropy Network.

UK President Eli Capilouto says, “Stan Pigman’s vision for the university and the College of Engineering is exceeded only by his genuine concern for Kentucky students and his desire to see them succeed. He and Karen share a tremendous personal commitment to helping students realize their dreams for a college education and a bright future. I deeply appreciate all they are doing and the impact those actions will have upon the university and the Commonwealth for generations to come.”

Stan and Karen Pigman extend their philanthropy to many other causes. At the mission camp Stan Pigman attended in Eastern Kentucky, he and his wife sponsor a scholarship program that enables students to obtain a college degree and also provides support for any student pursuing a seminary education. The Pigmans built a food pantry in Appalachia and fund its operation. They are helping make high school and trade school education available for disadvantaged young people in Honduras, and they support multiple churches to which they have personal ties.

Stan Pigman serves on the board of Hospice of the Piedmont in High Point and has been its chairman.

When asked what motivates their philanthropy at the University of Kentucky, Stan Pigman reflects, “I was given a scholarship to study at the University of Kentucky, and I couldn’t have gone to college without it. Even as a freshman at UK, I realized that if you’re poor — and my family was poor — the only way out of poverty is through education. There are still many young people in Kentucky in this same situation today, needing help to pursue a college degree and a successful career. That’s why we do what we do.”