UTM Receives Largest Commitment in UT System History

Wildwood Farm to support agricultural programs, horsemanship

Story by Bud Grimes | Photos by Steve Mantilla, Coltyn Michnal and Nathan Morgan

Officials with the University of Tennessee System and the University of Tennessee at Martin knew that the Wildwood Farm commitment to UT Martin announced June 24 in Germantown was the largest in university history. A property appraisal announced in August, which includes the property value and $3 million in new construction, confirmed the total commitment’s value at $79,534,920 – the largest ever to the UT System.

Melanie Smith Taylor and her family announced in June that Wildwood Farm will be transferred to the university upon her death. The commitment will allow UT Martin to increase educational program offerings in veterinary health technology and other agricultural disciplines in the near future. The commitment will also provide opportunities for UT Martin to collaborate with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. 

(l-r) Kerry Witcher, UT vice president for development and alumni affairs; Randy Boyd, UT president; Melanie Smith Taylor; and Dr. Keith Carver, UT Martin chancellor, prepare to sign the letter of intent for the Wildwood Farm commitment.

UT System President Randy Boyd, UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver and Taylor, a 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist in equestrian, were among those making the official June announcement. The commitment will make possible educational opportunities in animal science and horsemanship, plant and soil science, environmental management, and natural resources management. Early programming will prioritize adding a cohort for veterinary health technology.

“This transformational commitment will support our academic and research mission for generations to come,” Carver said. “The extraordinary generosity of Melanie Taylor and the Taylor family will allow UT Martin programsto expand into Shelby County and will greatly enhance our ability to promote agriculture, horsemanship, and plant and soil science. We are extremely grateful.”   

The farm includes 350 acres of mixed pasture and mature oak woodlots surrounded by dense residential development. The Big Barn was completed in 1935 and became the hub of equestrian history in the Mid-South. Originally built as one of the top American Saddlebred show stables in the country, Wildwood transformed into the setting for many equestrian events. 

The farm was originally chosen as the site for the National Steeplechase Tour and the U.S. Open Polo Championship. The property has served as a world-class training ground for polo ponies, hunters, jumpers and pleasure horses. In March 2017, Carnival Memphis presented Melanie Smith Taylor and Wildwood Farm a joint award of excellence “in recognition of outstanding achievement and service to the sports industry and the Mid-South community.”

The relationship between Wildwood Farm and UT Martin began in 2015 and led to the announcement and plans for the property’s future. The plan meets Taylor’s vision to both preserve the farm in the current state and to honor the Taylor family while providing a benefit to students studying all agriculture disciplines. The farm will be used in a similar manner to the UT Martin Teaching Farm located adjacent to the university’s main campus. Wildwood Farm will remain in its current state and provide a much-needed hands-on teaching and demonstration laboratory in agricultural sciences in Shelby County.

Melanie Smith Taylor, who received the Chancellor’s Award for University Service during 2021 Homecoming.

“The Wildwood Farm and UT Martin partnership will keep the beauty of this incredible land while leveraging its multi-use property to create new opportunities to benefit faculty and students for generations to come, and also sustain Wildwood Farm – which is the ultimate goal of the Taylor family,” Boyd said.

Kerry Witcher, UT Foundation Inc. president and CEO, said, “This commitment is the direct result of building lasting relationships between friends and alumni and our university. Transformational commitments of this magnitude positively impact generations to come, and the UT Foundation is excited to play a role in helping Ms. Taylor realize her dream.”

In her comments at the June announcement, Melanie Taylor recalled her late husband, Lee, and this vision for Wildwood Farm. “Lee wanted to be sure the farm continued to be enjoyed by me and the Wildwood family for the duration of my lifetime,” she told those present for the announcement. “But he also hoped it would be a gift that keeps on giving and growing through scholarship, horsemanship and friendship to best promote this unparalleled natural resource by an equestrian and an agrarian focus. … And so for the Taylor family and all of us at Wildwood, we welcome UT Martin to our home and shared dreams.”

Recognition for Taylor and her family’s generosity continued during 2021 UT Martin Homecoming when she received the Chancellor’s Award for University Service from Chancellor Keith Carver.

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