Honoring Decades of Giving: The Napoleon Hill Foundation

Valerie Lawson, representatives of the Napoleon Hill foundation and Chancellor Donna Henry
Left to right: Phil Fuentes, Valerie Lawson, Mike Battle, Lewey Lee (back), NHF President Jim Oleson, NHF Executive Director Don Green, Chancellor Donna Henry, Bob Johnson
Photo by Mark Robertson-Baker II

As a 1950s high schooler, Wise-native Don Green read Napoleon Hill’s seminal self-help book, “Think and Grow Rich.”

What he didn’t know was this book would set him on a life of sharing its inspiring principles with the world.

For the past two decades, Green has helmed the Napoleon Hill Foundation, spreading the message of positive thinking while creating an impactful educational legacy at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

This year, UVA Wise honored the Napoleon Hill Foundation as the 2022 Benefactor of the Year for decades of establishing generous scholarships and funds that help students achieve their own success.

Born into poverty in a one-room cabin in Wise County, Napoleon Hill was best known as the author of motivational books which have sold millions of copies worldwide. The Napoleon Hill Foundation is a nonprofit educational institution dedicated to promoting Hill’s philosophy of leadership, self-motivation and individual achievement.

On behalf of the foundation, Green, who attended then-Clinch Valley College when it was a two-year institution, has turned his love of the school into the creation of six endowed scholarships, three Bicentennial scholarships and a Professorship in Business Fund to the College all totaling a value today of more than $4 million. Hundreds of UVA Wise students have been financially supported through many honorary Napoleon Hill scholarships.

“The work of the Napoleon Hill Foundation is far-reaching. It has published hundreds of books in many different languages and countries to inspire people around the globe to be forward thinking, to work strategically and to enjoy success,” UVA Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry said. “The outstanding organization we are recognizing this evening has focused on students, who, like many of our scholars, have the potential to achieve significant and meaningful accomplishments, which will assuredly have a positive impact on society.”

Supporters of the foundation attended the event Saturday from as far away as California, Idaho, Florida, New York, Illinois and Utah and countries including Brazil and Canada to celebrate its long-standing contribution to the College.

“When you’ve been blessed beyond measure, you feel fortunate and very humble to help make a difference in other peoples’ lives,” Green said.

Seeing Possibilities

Don Green believes a good dose of dissatisfaction is the key to success.

“How can I do it a little bit better? I never want to be satisfied. I know I can do a little better next time, and that is what I’m looking for. Thinking about how I can improve is what drives me and gets me up in the morning,” he said.

That can-always-do-better attitude has taken the Wise County native around the world and back again.

Like Napoleon Hill, Green didn’t have much growing up. His dad was an underground coal miner and he’ll tell you the first time he flushed a commode was in middle school.

"I had the drive to make money as a kid,” Green said.

In high school, Green established his own backyard zoo where he charged adults 25 cents and kids 10 cents to take a peek at rattlesnakes, copperheads and a black bear. Even then he had great sales skills, selling trinkets and souvenirs like comical ash trays with his company name emblazoned on them.

“It was fun. I contributed to the family and I bought a ’36 Ford,” he said. “I learned the value of money and that, with that same money, I can make a difference in people’s lives.”

After graduating from then-Clinch Valley College, Green felt a four-year degree was out of reach but persisted taking night classes to finish his bachelor’s degree in accounting and business from East Tennessee State University. Later, he studied advanced phases of banking at the Stonier Graduate School of Banking at Rutgers University while working his way up in the banking industry to bank president and CEO. He eventually turned a failing regional savings and loan into a profitable one.

In his spare time, Green shared his passion for Napoleon Hill’s principles. He gave a lecture at the Pound Historical Society, but wanted to take the message further. He wrote the Napoleon Hill Foundation, then based in Chicago, telling them about his efforts. An invite to attend the next board meeting in Illinois turned into a seat on the board.

In 1998, Green pitched a three-credit course, Keys to Success, to then Clinch Valley College administrators. The class was based on Napoleon Hill’s principles. Green who has written several books about Napoleon Hill’s philosophy including “Napoleon Hill My Mentor,” taught the course for several years.

Many students of some of those first classes have gone on to successes of their own including Chief Deputy Attorney General of Virginia Chuck Slemp, UVA Wise College Board members Jonette “M.J.” Dixon Carpenter and Jimmy Adkins, Wise County Clerk of Court Jack Kennedy, attorney Julia McAfee and businessman Wendell Barnette.

In 2000, Wise became the home of the Napoleon Hill Foundation when its former executive director retired and Green took on the role. The offices were first at a dry-cleaning business equipped with a small table and fax machine before eventually moving into the current offices on UVA Wise campus.

To date, more than 500 students have taken the course. And, their professors receive a stipend from the foundation to offer additional guidance outside of class.

“I have been fortunate to see firsthand the transformation in our student scholars. Learning Hill’s philosophy of self-motivation and leadership has provided our scholars with the tools and enterprising spirit to become leaders on campus, in our community, and beyond,” UVA Wise Dean of Academic Programs and Curriculum Sabrina Qureshi said. “These scholars clearly demonstrate personal achievement through Napoleon Hill’s mantra, ‘Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve.’”

And it’s not all focused on business. The Florene Finn Stovall Napoleon Hill Scholarship also supports students majoring in music. 

Over the years, billionaires, CEOs and successful business owners have visited the foundation at the College and contributed to UVA Wise’s mission to expand access to an affordable college degree and social mobility.

Inspiring The Next Generation

At 82, Green isn’t slowing down anytime soon. He’s recently back from a trip to Germany meeting with Napoleon Hill book publishers there. Long ago, Green recognized an opportunity to expand into foreign language markets starting with one in Japan to more than 500 foreign language companies publishing the books in 35 countries today. And whenever he travels worldwide, he spreads the successful principals of Napoleon Hill and sings the praises of UVA Wise.

Last spring, Green helped the foundation create a new fund, the Napoleon Hill Keys to Success Bicentennial Scholarship. That fund made a $1 million pledge to be matched by the University of Virginia for a total $2 million to inspire a new entrepreneurial culture among youth.

Through UVA Wise, the Napoleon Hill’s The Keys To Success course is taught online to high school students in seven counties including Wise, Dickenson, Scott, Russell, Lee, Tazewell, Buchanan and the city of Norton. Already, 18 juniors and seniors have finished the program. Students receive three hours of college credit from UVA Wise upon successful course completion.