Champions of Mental Fitness
Congressman David Trone ’77 and wife June give Furman $10 million to support mental health
By Clinton Colmenares
Ian Trone was tall, over 6 feet, with a mop of dark hair. He was a funny guy. He dreamed of being a chef. And, like millions of other Americans, Ian also struggled with depression and addiction.
For years, Ian’s uncle, David Trone ’77, repeatedly got him into rehab programs, trying to help him get his life back on track. For a 13-month stretch, Ian was sober, and the family had hope. But on New Year’s Eve, 2016, when Ian was 24, he took a pill laced with fentanyl. It killed him.
Two years later, David Trone was elected to Congress from Maryland’s 6th District. He hit the ground running, championing addiction and mental illness reforms, leading or co-leading more than a dozen initiatives so far. He co-chairs the U.S. Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking and the Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force. He’s leading the Higher Education Mental Health Act, the Behavioral Health Coordination and Communication Act, the Public Safety Officer Support Act and many more.
In August, Trone announced a $10 million gift to Furman, with $8.5 million dedicated to student mental health services and $1.5 million to support Furman’s Hillel, the Jewish Student Association. The gift makes Trone, a member of the Board of Trustees, one of the university’s largest living donors. It will also transform mental health services, programs and wellbeing activities at Furman, making the university a model for mental and emotional health care – what Trone calls mental health fitness – in higher education.
“As a proud alumnus of Furman University, I am honored by the opportunity to give back in a meaningful way on an issue of great personal importance,” says Trone, the founder and co-owner of the retail chain Total Wine & More.
“In this day and age, it is vital that we work together to break the stigma surrounding mental health, ensure tolerance in our diverse communities, and equip our students with the tools and resources to succeed,” says Trone, who gave $3.5 million to Furman in 2013 to renovate and name the Trone Student Center.
“With this gift through the David and June Trone Family Foundation, I trust that Furman University will continue to positively impact and shape our nation’s future leaders.”
The gift gets to the heart of The Furman Advantage and its emphasis on helping students create lives of purpose and impact.
“The Furman Advantage helps students become resilient in the face of adversity and adaptable to change. Mental fitness is vital to developing these skills, ensuring our students are able to succeed academically, socially and emotionally,” Furman University President Elizabeth Davis says. “David and June’s generous donation clearly will make a significant difference in our students’ lives and in our campus community, now and for generations to come.”
“The Trones’ gift will kick-start a more proactive and integrative approach to mental health programming and services for students, helping them to strengthen their resilience and create healthy habits for a life of well-being,” says Vice President for Student Life Connie Carson.
With $1 million of the gift, Furman will expand and renovate the counseling center, which will be renamed the Trone Center for Mental Fitness. Another $7.5 million will create the Trone Family Fund for Student Mental Health and Well-Being. It will fund positions, including a health and wellbeing coordinator. It will also endow the position that oversees mental health and ensure the hiring of a diverse staff to reflect the student population.
Mental fitness will be integrated into a variety of Student Life experiences and activities, such as mentoring and advising, campus recreation, spiritual life and others, giving students practice for enhancing their own well-being for life on campus and beyond.
The remaining $1.5 million will create the Hillel Endowment Fund to provide permanent support to expand and enhance the Furman Hillel for a more robust Jewish life for all students and the broader community. The Hillel Fund also provides important aspects of mental fitness by giving students a place where they feel welcomed and valued, and where they can satisfy their spiritual needs.
“David and June have once again identified a tremendous need among our students,” Davis says. “We are grateful for their generous spirit and we applaud their leadership and their willingness to make a difference.”
Trone wants students to know that “it’s okay to say you’re not okay. All of us, myself included, have struggled with anxiety and concern about what’s happening around us.” He wants students to feel comfortable raising their hands when they need help.
“There are resources and people at Furman who really want to help you be okay, help you be yourself,” Trone says.
Photo by Patrick G. Ryan