Trident Tech gets biggest gift ever

Carolyn Hunter is all smiles during a luncheon held in her honor Wednesday at Trident Technical College. Hunter, a local McDonald’s franchise owner, has pledged to give the college $1 million in $50,000 installments over 20 years, which will make her the largest donor in school history.

Trident Technical College/Mic Smith Photography LLC

Carolyn Hunter (seated) was showered with applause Wednesday after her pledge of $1 million to Trident Technical College was announced at a luncheon on the school’s North Charleston campus. Standing at Hunter’s right is her niece, Denise Ball; to her left is her son, Albert Ford. Hunter is a local businesswoman whose company owns three area McDonald’s franchises.

Local business owner Carolyn Hunter knows the inside of a community college classroom.

And she knows the value of a two-year college degree.

She earned one from a Virginia community college in the late 1970s. Then she used it to land a job with the McDonald's Corp., and continued to rise through the company's ranks.

She also saved her money until she had enough to buy her first franchise in Moncks Corner in 1989. Then she bought two more in Ladson and Summerville.

On Wednesday, Hunter gave back. Big time.

She pledged $1 million to Trident Technical College over the next 20 years, marking the largest gift in the school's history.

Hunter is president and owner of C&A Unlimited Inc., which operates three McDonald's restaurants. She has committed $50,000 to Trident Tech each year for the next 20 years. And she is placing no restrictions on how the school spends the money, leaving the decision to college leaders. The move is unusual in college giving.

"I was impressed with what the college has accomplished," Hunter said. "They are good stewards of money."

And they are the experts on the college's needs, she said. She trusts college officials to use the money wisely.

Hunter has been contributing to Trident Tech for years. She has served on the board of the college's foundation since 2006, and also has been a member of its Emergency Student Fund Committee.

She launched the school's Rachel Hunter Thompson Scholarship Fund, which is named in honor of her mother. The fund provides $1,000 scholarships to five students each year.

Trident Tech President Mary Thornley said Hunter, a single parent, at first wanted her gift to remain anonymous. "But we twisted her arm multiple times."

The story of Hunter's success and generosity will inspire Trident Tech students, Thornley said. "We needed that story."

Hunter said she believes strongly in the work Trident Tech does. The school provides a bridge for students not quite ready to enroll at a four-year institution, she said. And it provides a degree at a lower cost for people who need to find a job.

There are similarities between the school and McDonald's franchises, she said. Both offer entry-level opportunities, and both offer more opportunities for advancement than most people realize.

She, like other McDonald's franchise owners, think it's important to contribute to the communities in which their businesses are located, Hunter said.

The college's foundation, which will decide how the money is spent, received the first $50,000 installment of Hunter's donation Wednesday.

Foundation Executive Director Kathleen Forbes said foundation leaders will consider recommendations from college officials on the best uses for the money.

Hunter's unrestricted gift is a boon for the college, Thornley said. "She has enormous faith in us."