Alumnus, wife continue support of KSU with endowed scholarships

Chris and Debbie PikeChris Pike ’84 and his wife Debbie Pike have been major contributors to Kennesaw State University in many ways. Both are trustees of the KSU Foundation and have impacted the institution and lives of students for several years.

Recently, the Pikes established endowments of annual scholarships they first started in January 2013. On July 19, the John and Virginia Hughes Memorial Scholarship, along with the J.P. and Rudy Kemp Memorial Scholarship were amended with gifts. John Hughes, Debbie’s father, also helped to fully endow the Hughes Memorial Scholarship.

“We wanted to give back,” said Chris, who earned his Bachelor of Business in marketing from KSU. “We felt that the best way to give back was directly to students.”

The Kemp Memorial Scholarship benefits students studying entrepreneurship through Kennesaw State’s renowned Coles College of Business.

“The Kemp Memorial was established in honor of a close family friend that I grew up with who was a native of Cobb County,” Chris said. “I just wanted to remember them, so that’s how the scholarship started. We’ve got it fully funded now so it will serve as a great legacy to the Kemps.”

Named for Debbie’s parents, the Hughes Memorial Scholarship supports students in the WellStar College of Health and Human Services whose preferred major is nursing.

“The nursing scholarship honors my parents. My mother was a nurse,” Debbie said. “So, as the nursing program was growing at KSU, we were really excited about being a part of that and thrilled to award a scholarship every year to help a nursing student.

“Our first goal for establishing these scholarships was to honor these special people in our lives. Secondly, we’d like to help the university continue to be more and more competitive in terms of attracting the brightest and best students. We want to make sure that financial reasons weren’t the ones keeping them away, and that’s really the third goal, bridging that gap for those who want to be here but couldn’t be because they couldn’t afford college.”

One reason the Pikes give back is simply to make KSU the No. 1 destination university for aspiring college students. They are committed to helping Kennesaw State continue to grow and prosper.

“The motivation for us was to attract people to come here as their first choice,” said Chris, who once served as president of the KSU Alumni Association. “I think it’s evolving that way now. We want to be in that category of universities where KSU is their first choice.

“We also want to help Cobb County to keep growing. KSU, with the merger of Southern Tech, is an even bigger engine for Cobb County.”

The couple has given to many causes over the years, but two things that are very important to them are family and education.

“Rather than gifting other types of organizations and nonprofits, (we felt) let’s work within the education area so that we can help develop future leaders, whether it’s in business or in the health and medical field,” Debbie said. “Another motivator for us is that we have eight family members who have graduated from KSU, two generations, and we have two more family members that are starting in this fall semester. So, our family connection is pretty solid here at Kennesaw State University.” 

Since Kennesaw State’s inaugural football season in 2015, the Pikes have been big fans of the Owls. They also enjoy other activities on the campuses and events associated with the university.

“We have season tickets to football and we’re very involved with that,” said Chris, who is a regular player in the KSU Athletic Association’s annual Dot Martin Scholarship Golf Classic fundraiser. “We go to other athletic events and we also enjoy cultural events on campus as well. We try to participate in everything we can and we enjoy it.”

Overall, the Pikes seem very pleased with the direction Kennesaw State is heading and believe it has a very bright future.

“Just looking at the strategic plan and understanding some of that direction, I think that we have tremendous momentum and it’s pretty exciting,” Debbie said. “We think it’s going in the right direction. The merger with the Marietta campus has been phenomenal and the opportunities now available to students everywhere as well as staff, is just incredible. KSU is a force, not only to our community here but to Atlanta and Georgia and even the region. I think it would be fair to say that we’re early in that growth and momentum, and it’s just about to really take off. We think the future vision and the strategy is right on target. 

As a KSU student himself in the late 1970s and early ’80s – when the institution was known as Kennesaw College – North Cobb native Chris remembers things being much different than they are today.

“I needed to work, so (attending Kennesaw State) allowed me to work and attend college. This is when the campus was much smaller and there were no residence halls,” Chris said. “Probably the biggest memory was just making lifetime friends with other people from the area.

“Debbie and I met because of KSU. I met her through her sister (Becky Hughes Lovvorn ’84) who was also attending here.”

The Pikes have been married 31 years. Currently, they are keeping very busy with their different businesses.

Meritage Restaurant Group (MRG) is a family-owned company that the Pikes have with their two oldest children, Meghan Cook and Taylor Pike. The business is presently developing Tropical Smoothie Café locations in Cobb and Cherokee counties. The Kennesaw café opened late last year off Chastain Road near campus and there are many others planned for the area in the near future.

“We have one café open, one under construction and we’ll have a total of three to four open by the end of the year,” Debbie said. “In a couple of years, we’ll have at least 10 cafés open. MRG was founded to be a family business with the goal of creating a legacy for our kids as well as to provide employment opportunities, and give us a platform for serving our community.”

Debbie also runs JG & Company, a marketing consulting practice in the restaurant industry, and Chris is in charge of Landscaper’s Select Inc., a wholesale landscaping and nursery company in Dahlonega, Georgia. Earlier this year, Debbie served as moderator for Women Helping Women, the KSU Alumni Association’s annual Women’s History Month Commemoration event, while Chris regularly donates flowers to the Alumni House. Additionally, both Chris and Debbie are mentors to Kennesaw State students through the KSU Foundation’s mentoring program.

As entrepreneurs, Chris and Debbie have worked together for several years and really seem to complement each other’s talents in the many endeavors in which they are associated.

“Debbie is good at planning, strategy and seeing the big picture of where we want to go and I’m a lot better with just getting things done and the process,” Chris said.

“Along with our daughter Meghan who graduated from KSU in 2013, I focus on strategy, marketing, communications, and HR (human resources) while Chris runs the finance and execution side,” Debbie said. “In our restaurant business, he’s more construction and development, and I’m people and marketing. So if you know the analogy of left brain and right brain, together we solidify that in terms of our skill sets. We complement each other nicely both professionally and personally as we have raised our four children.”

As with Kennesaw State, the future certainly looks bright for the Pikes as they continue to expand their restaurant group and look for other ways to enhance the community.

“Our primary focus is to develop the cafés,” Debbie said. “We have about 30 employees per café, so we want to continue to grow that business. And then we’re always looking for other opportunities.”

Of their employees, Debbie stated that 90 percent are KSU students and the majority need to work to afford college.

“There is still a lot of need,” Debbie said. “I think there is an assumption by not only our trustees, but leaders in our community that financial need doesn’t exist. So the more we as trustees and as business leaders can help with scholarships and continue to grow financial resources for students, the better. It does not take a lot to make a difference, any size gift is significant.”

Chris added, “Our goal is to create two more scholarships within the next two or three years.”

According to the Pikes, they have heard from many Kennesaw State students over the years that said if scholarship funds were not available, they would not be able to attend the university. That seems to inspire Chris and Debbie even more in their generous giving to students.

“Chris and I are honored to be in a position to help students achieve their goals, and through the Foundation and our other KSU involvement, to be a part of the overall success and growth of KSU,” Debbie concluded.