Rich's success spurred by VU experience
Sept. 1, 2008
Vanderbilt is planning a special Hall of Fame weekend for September 12-13. A series of events will unfold over those two days, capped by the Induction Banquet Friday evening, September 12 and the Class of 2008 being presented at halftime of Saturday's Rice football game. VUcommodores.com will spotlight one inductee per day leading up to the Hall of Fame weekend.
John Rich remembers being on the verge of expulsion from Vanderbilt University in the late 1940's and being given an unexpected second chance by the Dean of Students. He never forgot that golden opportunity and through the years as his coal business grew, he says he has tried to repay his beloved University with his time, by sharing his resources and lending his expertise. Vanderbilt has in turn, honored the prominent businessman with a spot in its inaugural Hall of Fame class for his contribution to Commodore Athletics both on and off the playing fields.
“I was surprised and really pleased,” said Rich after being asked about his recent induction. “It is quite an honor. I figured there were at least a hundred guys that should have been in the class in front of me. I was really pleased.”
The founder of Delta Coals, Incorporated, arrived on campus in 1945 as a scholarship football player from Mississippi and has never looked back on his alma mater.
One of the reasons is that Vanderbilt and his athletic experience with the Commodores has helped shape him to the man he is today.
“The experience changed my life entirely,” said Rich. “The people I met at Vanderbilt really helped me. I ended up getting a job in the coal business with the connections I made with the people in my fraternity. That was in 1954 when I went into the coal business, so I’ve been in this business for 54 years. The fact that I had a Vanderbilt degree has helped me all the way.”
Rich earned three varsity letters in baseball, leading the 1949 team in hitting as a third baseman, but his top memory on the athletic fields at Vanderbilt came on the gridiron.
“In some of the early years at Vanderbilt, I started the first 2 or 3 games as a freshman, and we went down to Florida and beat them 7-0. It was quite an accomplishment for us.”
Perhaps Rich’s most important contribution to Vanderbilt Athletics has come after his playing career. He joined the Board of Trust in 1988 and was named trustee emeritus in 2003. He was a member of a steering committee for Athletics Campaign. He provided leadership for major athletics projects including expansion of McGugin Center, 1982 construction of Vanderbilt Stadium and most recently the 2002 John Rich Football Training Complex. He is a member of the Dean's Council, Blair Patrons, Owen Associates and Friends of Children's Hospital. He has been a member of the National Commodore Club since its inception, and he received the Nashville Banner’s Commodore Award in 1984.
All of this from a man who came to love Vanderbilt after not even knowing where it was during his high school years.
“I was a 17 year old kid from a small town in Mississippi, and when I got my offer to come to Vanderbilt, I thought Vanderbilt was in Alabama somewhere,” said Rich. “I really didn’t know where it was. It was quite a surprise. I had some tentative offers from Mississippi State and Ole Miss, so I was really pleased to be up here.”
Rich is not the only one excited about his induction. He is planning to bring a lot of family to the Hall of Fame Banquet, which takes place on Friday, September 12, at the Student Life Center on the Vanderbilt campus.
“I’m assuming my three children and their wives will come, and I’ve got ten grand kids in town who’ll want to come. They’re all real pleased.”
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