GREENVILLE, N.C. – Van and Jennifer Isley of Raleigh made the largest one-time philanthropic gift in ECU Athletics and Pirate Club history with a $5 million investment to the Pirates Unite Campaign for Comprehensive Excellence, Pirate Club Executive Director Ryan Robinson announced Wednesday. The unprecedented donation is the largest in the 61-year history of the Pirate Club.
“We are exceedingly grateful for Jennifer and Van Isley’s extraordinary generosity and commitment to ECU Athletics and our student-athletes,” ECU Director of Athletics Jon Gilbert said. “This is a transformational investment that will have a lasting impact on our student-athletes and coaches as we continue to build a culture of success here.”
Van Isley, an ECU Alumnus and current ECU trustee, earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from East Carolina. A native of Burlington, NC, he founded Professional Builders Supply in 2003, a company that was named eleven times to the Triangle Business Journal’s annual list of 50 fastest-growing companies including a number one ranking in 2013. Van and Jennifer have two sons, Jake and Johnny.
The Isley’s have a long history of philanthropic giving to East Carolina University, ECU Athletics and the Pirate Club.
“We are blessed to be able to give back to a place that has created so many memories for our family and impacted our lives,” Van Isley said. “Jennifer and I care about ECU and athletics plays such a significant role for our great university. I have always believed that you invest in people and these facilities will provide the tools and resources necessary for the student-athletes to have success.”
The generosity of the Isley’s made possible the Van and Jennifer Isley Innovation Hub that was opened in 2022 on the ECU campus. The space is utilized by business, engineering, technology and art students to collaborate on product innovation and entrepreneurship. The Miller School of Entrepreneurship, the Crisp Small Business Resource Center and the Air Force Leadership Center are also housed in the Isley Hub. The Isley’s have participated in numerous Pirate Club campaigns and are season-ticket holders for all Pirates ticketed events.
“This is a historic day for the Pirate Club,” Robinson said. “Van and Jennifer are genuine people that care about the future of ECU Athletics and ensuring our student-athletes have the best resources available to have success. Everything they have done for ECU has been about providing opportunities and giving young people the opportunity to be successful. It is not just words for them, it is important to them we lead the next generation. We are forging a new era of ECU Athletics and the Pirate Club, and the possibilities are endless with the support from our donors.”
Launched in May 2022, the $60 million Pirates Unite Campaign is the most ambitious fundraising effort in Pirate Club history with critical funds being used to ensure a bright future for the Pirates by investing in the long-term health of the department. The collective impact of the ECU community, alumni, students and friends have helped raise more than $20 million in less than a year for the campaign with several projects getting underway.
Work has begun in Minges Coliseum on chairback seats on one side and new LED lighting will be completed by start of the 2023 school year. The Isley’s gift will help fund the proposed multipurpose indoor facility and the expansion of the current baseball building.
“It’s been overwhelming to see the response to the Pirates Unite Campaign over the past year,” Gilbert said. “We know these investments by individuals are going to help us attract and retain top-tier student-athletes, upgrade our facilities and enhance the student-athlete experience.”
The Isley’s investment comes on the heels of tremendous momentum within ECU Athletics.
“There should be great excitement about the Pirates and the direction the athletics department is headed under Jon Gilbert’s leadership,” Van Isley said. “We want to be a part of the momentum to keep pushing forward and support the coaches and student-athletes by giving them the best experience possible. The opportunities here are endless. We hope this can create a ripple effect where others think about the role they can play in the success of our programs.”
The Pirates have made tremendous strides in the football program under head coach Mike Houston in the past four years with two consecutive bowl appearances, a first since 2012-14. Season tickets increased by 15 percent in 2022 and attendance ranked second among all group of five schools. Head coach Cliff Godwin and the ECU Baseball team currently rank No. 12 in the country and are pushing for their unprecedented fourth straight AAC regular season championship. The Pirates join Stanford as the only two programs in the nation to host four-straight regionals. Baseball season tickets have sold out for two consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.
The Pirates women’s basketball team led by AAC Coach of the Year Kim McNeill won twenty-three games in 2022-23 and guided the Pirates to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in sixteen seasons and only third overall. First-year head coach Michael Schwartz led the men’s basketball program to the most wins in the last ten seasons and registered the conference tournament win since 2016-17. The momentum has continued in the spring with the lacrosse program off to the best start in school history with a 10-5 mark.
The campaign comprises several facility projects and renovations for the athletics department. Including:
- A newly constructed swimming locker room in Minges Natatorium.
- A state-of-the-art Multipurpose Indoor Practice Facility which includes a full-length football field to be used by all sports programs.
- A Williams-Harvey Team Sports Building expansion to enhance the overall footprint for Olympic sports.
- Renovations to the lower bowl of Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum including additional premium seating options and a hospitality space.
- Expansion of the current baseball footprint including an enlarged locker room and team space with a designated area for premium seating.
- A Sport Programs Restricted Fund and Athletics Excellence Fund to emphasis sport-specific giving and designated support in areas of priority.
For more information about the campaign, please visit ecupirateclub.com or call (252) 737-4540.