From Humble Beginnings: The Story of Wake Forest Athletics’ Biggest Donor

03/28/16

Bob McCreary describes his early years growing up in rural Caldwell County, NC as, to put it lightly, humble. “We really didn’t have much. Our house did not have indoor plumbing and as a result we had an outhouse as our bathroom. However, although we had nothing of materials things, we had everything in terms of loving parents. We never went to bed hungry or not loved,” said Bob.

Bob’s prowess on the football field led him to Wake Forest where he was awarded an athletic scholarship to play football for the Demon Deacons. “Wake Forest gave me everything. It shaped who I am, taught me invaluable lessons and provided lifelong friendships and mentors who changed my life,” said Bob.McCreary.Bob.mug1

One of the key lessons Wake Forest taught Bob was the importance of perseverance—something Bob still remembers long after his time at Wake Forest. During his time as a football player, Bob suffered a devastating injury when he blew out his knee. His rehabilitation was proving to be extremely painful which was greatly affecting his attempt to return to the game. When things got so bad that Bob couldn’t take the pain anymore, he walked off the football field announcing that he was quitting. At that moment, longtime athletic trainer Lewis “Doc” Martin had some wise words for Bob saying, “You are not going to quit. If you quit now you will quit again and again when things get hard in your personal relationships, career and life in general.” These wise words resonated with Bob so much that he persevered through this difficult injury to finish his college playing career, graduate from Wake Forest and even go on to play for the Dallas Cowboys.

After Bob’s days playing football were over, he went on to work at the same furniture company his father, a furniture sander, worked for. His father, clearly seeing great potential in Bob, encouraged his son to pursue furniture sales. As a result, Bob enjoyed 20 successful years in furniture sales and management before starting McCreary Modern in 1986.

McCreary Modern has succeeded as an American furniture company through times when many competitors moved operations overseas or closed their doors altogether. “I remember 20 years ago people saying ‘If you don’t go to China, you won’t survive’. I didn’t want to do that—I’m too competitive for that. So we made investments in our people, infrastructure and facilities. And guess what—we not only survived but we have thrived,” said Bob. The success of McCreary Modern provided Bob with prosperity beyond anything he could have ever imagined growing up in the little house with no plumbing in rural Caldwell County.

As Bob was contemplating his first multi-million dollar gift to Wake Forest Athletics, he wanted to know that Wake Forest was committed to winning. And so, some three years ago, Bob, Ben Sutton and Ron Wellman met with Dr. Nathan Hatch to discuss just that. The result of this meeting would forever change Wake Forest Athletics as it solidified in Bob’s mind that Wake Forest was indeed committed to winning. The result was a $7.5 million gift from Bob. Subsequently, Bob has committed an additional $5 million to the Sports Performance Center, bringing his total gifts to Wake Forest to over $20 million. This level of support places Bob in the top ranks of all-time givers to Wake Forest and as the top giver to Wake Forest Athletics. When asked the simple question of why he gives, Bob has a surprisingly humble answer.

“What is money? My family and friends are everything to me, so really, what is money?” Bob realized that while his wealth was of little use to him, it could make all the difference in the world for Wake Forest. Plus, as Bob admits, there were a few “selfish” reasons behind his giving. “If I’m going to give, I don’t want something that’s going to come along after I’m gone. I want to enjoy it now and I want to help return Wake Forest to Championships. I want to win and I have realized that you need to give in order to win,” said Bob.

The fulfillment Bob gets from giving is clear as he reminisces on the first day the football team set foot in the newly constructed McCreary Field House. “The smiles on their faces as they entered for the first time were so inspiring and I really feel that in that moment I got back so much more than I had given. It is so great to see that my gifts have made such an impact on our football players and eventually we will all enjoy more wins as a result of these incredible new facilities.”

Bob is a product of the Wake Forest athletic system whose giving is unsurpassed and is leading others to consider their own way to support Wake Forest Athletics and the Sports Performance Center, which is currently in the final stages of fundraising thanks to the Sports Performance Center match made possible by Bob and Ben Sutton.

Bob summed it up perfectly as he said, “Wake Forest transformed my life so much that I am now in a position to make a real difference. That day on the field when I was ready to quit, Wake Forest pulled me back up and challenged me to succeed and I’m committed to paying that forward.”

Go Deacs!

Barry Faircloth