Ten years ago, the Butler men’s basketball team was on its way to a historic second consecutive NCAA title game appearance. Tom ʼ70 and Deborah Slaton were following along closely from their home in Lexington, Kentucky, where Tom had recently retired from a 40-year career as a financial advisor, and Deborah had just retired after 26 years as a professor and associate dean in the College of Education at the University of Kentucky (UK).
The couple was so inspired by the back-to-back title game appearances, and by the quality of the student-athletes on those 2010 and 2011 teams, they decided to include a gift to the Butler men’s basketball program in their estate plans. Ten years later, that gift is now valued at approximately $2 million, and the Slatons say they’ve only become more convinced their decision to invest in Butler basketball was the right one.
“We saw how the success of the basketball program in 2010 and 2011 propelled Butler into the limelight,” Tom says. “It allowed people to know about Butler both academically and athletically, and it helped showcase the many things that Butler has to offer. We think that a strong athletics program can support a strong academic program, and success for athletics can unquestionably lead to success for the entire University.”
Tom graduated from Butler with a business degree in January of 1970, just a few months before Tony Hinkle retired as the Bulldogs’ head coach. As the years passed by and he was busy with his financial career in Lexington, Tom lost track of Butler basketball. The games were rarely on television, and he didn’t have many occasions to return to campus.
But Tom and Deborah both remember when they started paying more attention to the team. It was March 16, 2001, and the couple was on vacation in Florida, where they vividly recall watching Butler beat Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
As Butler basketball rose in prominence through the early 2000s, the Slatons began following the team more closely. By the time the Bulldogs were facing Duke in the 2010 championship game in Indianapolis, they were hooked. And, as they began to enjoy retirement and make plans for their estate, those back-to-back Final Four appearances inspired a desire to support the team in a more concrete way. Since formally documenting their estate gift in 2012, the Slatons have started making the drive from Lexington to Indianapolis a few times each year to watch games at Hinkle Fieldhouse and to visit with the Butler friends they have gathered along the way.
“Tom and Deborah Slaton have been incredibly generous and loyal friends to the Butler men’s basketball program for many years,” says Barry Collier, Vice President and Director of Athletics. “Their planned gift will positively influence the lives of future student-athletes and will support the program’s long-term goals of consistently competing successfully in the BIG EAST Conference while representing the best of Butler University on and off the court. On behalf of Butler Athletics, I am grateful Tom and Deborah have chosen to invest so generously in the future of the Butler men’s basketball program.”
Along with Tom’s fond memories of his own days as a Bulldog, the Slatons say the thing that makes Butler most special to them is the spirit of The Butler Way.
“When we read the five guiding principles [of The Butler Way], we agree that these are key for education, teamwork, and success,” Tom says.
Deborah says her career at UK made her feel especially confident in the far-reaching impact of a philanthropic investment in higher education. Along with the Slatons’ planned gift to Butler basketball, they also have plans for an equal gift to support doctoral students in special education at UK. The Slatons have no children of their own and say they are pleased to be able to leave legacy gifts at UK and Butler that will have a positive effect on student lives for many years to come.
“We think higher education is life-changing,” Deborah says. “I think about the many people who invested in my education through scholarships at Texas Tech as an undergraduate and the University of Florida, where I earned my PhD, and it makes me want to give back.”
Following its back-to-back Final Four appearances, Butler made a move to the BIG EAST Conference, renovated Hinkle Fieldhouse, and, in 2017, hired Head Coach LaVall Jordan ʼ01. Meanwhile, the University was growing in national prominence and moving up in rankings like the U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges annual listing. Each move has reinforced the Slatons’ instinct that an investment in the basketball program will benefit the entire University.
“We have been impressed with President Danko’s leadership,” Deborah says. “We see the rankings and all of this recognition coming to Butler, and we think that President Danko has pulled together a team to accomplish all of this that is forward-thinking and student-oriented, and we like that. We see this close dynamic between athletics and academics, which makes us want to invest in it.”
Tom says the future of Butler basketball looks bright, and not just because of the program’s consistently high rankings or next year’s strong recruiting class. Tom says he sees something more important happening in the lives of the student-athletes.
“Under Coach Jordan’s leadership, we think we’re seeing what the future holds for Butler basketball,” Tom says. “Not only is he an excellent coach, but he also prepares his student-athletes for life after college. We’re impressed by how he communicates with the players and gives them opportunities to engage with the world outside of basketball. I know he’s been talking to them about all the events that have been going on in the world in the past year, and we think that really develops a well-rounded person when you have a student-athlete graduate who has learned about more than just basketball.”
The Slatons say their engagement with Butler has led to deep and meaningful friendships with Butler staff and fellow fans, as well as to friendly conversations with strangers anywhere they go while wearing a Butler shirt or hat. The couple says they are happy they were able to find a way to translate their passions for basketball and special education into meaningful gifts at Butler and UK. They hope their gift will inspire others to be generous, too.
“We think Butler students, faculty, and staff are doing an amazing job,” Tom says. “Anyone who wants to support Butler can find a program that reflects their interests and make a positive impact for now and into the future.”