At 100 years old, Wilbur Garrett, BS ’36, has a lot of experiences to reflect on. None, he says, has had a greater impact on his life than his education.
“To my parents a college degree meant a great deal,” says Wilbur Garrett. “Their education was to a large degree self-taught, but they were determined through their own hard work that their children could and would achieve the pursuit of knowledge that they had not be afforded.”
Born in 1878, Wilbur’s father was raised on a farm just outside of the Civil War ravaged town of Fredericksburg, Virginia. He made his way to Washington, D.C. at the turn of the century, working as a window dresser. It was here in the nation’s capital that he met Wilbur’s mother, who was raised in D.C., and co-founded the general contracting firm, Skinker and Garrett, Inc.
The Garretts raised Wilbur and his two younger sisters in the Mount Pleasant area of Washington—bordered to the east by 16th Street and to the west by Rock Creek Park and the National Zoo—and instilled the work ethic that spurred a young Wilbur through one of the toughest times in United States history.
The country was in the grips of the Great Depression when Wilbur graduated from Western High School in Georgetown in 1932, but his parents still encouraged him to attend a prestigious university, one where he could pursue his interest in studying civil engineering.
The George Washington University was a natural fit for Wilbur—a school with an excellent academic reputation, a strong engineering program, and a location just an hour from the Garrett family home. He enrolled at GW’s School of Engineering (now the School of Engineering & Applied Science) that year to pursue a bachelor’s in civil engineering.
He spent the next four years walking an hour to class each day (he lived at home to save money), studying his craft, and working to pay for his education, as well as help support his family.
“My main means of transportation to and from GW was walking an hour each way through beautiful Rock Creek Park on the bridal path,” he remembers. “The trolley from Mount Pleasant to Georgetown was a rarity for me; what money I saved by walking went to help pay for my education. I worked when I had the time, and all of my friends had similar experiences in that we all worked to help pay not only for our educations, but also to help support our families.”
When he graduated from GW in 1936, Wilbur was the first in his family to earn a college degree.
“The attainment of my civil engineering degree from GW was a very significant point in my life, and I was very appreciative to all those who helped me along the way,” he says.
A newly-minted college graduate, Wilbur joined the family company in 1936 before serving in the U.S. Navy during WWII. He later rejoined Skinker and Garrett when the war ended and cites the key role his GW education had in his successes both during the war and after.
To this day, Wilbur is still extremely proud of his GW degree and grateful for the education he received—moving him to give back and support his alma mater.
Wilbur has been an annual donor to GW for nearly 35 consecutive years, supporting the SEAS Dean’s Excellence Fund, the SEAS Annual Fund, the President’s Fund for Excellence, and a number of other GW programs and initiatives.
“I felt it was important to support the university that provided me with an excellent education and a start towards a very exciting career,” he says. “Engineering and construction have been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember, so supporting SEAS is a way of saying thank you.”
Donors like Wilbur Garrett who make annual contributions to GW are the cornerstone of the university’s philanthropic efforts. Their commitment, year in and year out, sustains the GW students and faculty who strive to make history each and every day.
“Just as the university was there for me from 1932 to 1936, and many others from then to now, there is a need to support and an obligation to ensure that the reputation of GW continues to improve as time goes on,” Wilbur says. “I also believe that by the efforts of alumni, both past and present, future generations will see what was done before them, and will see the benefit in promoting and supporting such an excellent institution like GW.”