Fairmont State graduate honors professor, helps accounting students

A 1988 Fairmont State graduate honored his former advisor, professor, and mentor by establishing the Gary K. Bennett Scholarship for students who demonstrate outstanding promise in the field of accounting.

“Gary K. Bennett was my advisor at Fairmont State College (now University) and spent considerable time helping me fashion my schedule and adjust to attending college,” John L. Wilson said.  “I took a large class load each semester, and Mr. Bennett helped tremendously in the process.”  

Wilson, who lives just outside of Pittsburgh, says his business success and the establishment of this scholarship have been more about the people and the institution that helped him find his way. The endowment will assist junior accounting majors who have a 3.0 grade point average and is renewable for the senior year as long as the student maintains a 3.0.

“John Wilson’s generosity speaks volumes,” Mirta M. Martin, president of Fairmont State University, said. “His gift is a shining example of this university’s commitment to providing a transformational education. Our goal is to impact students so that they become citizens who impact their communities. John overcame obstacles, worked hard, leaned on and learned from our expert faculty-mentors, forged a path of success, and now he’s giving back to Fairmont State. He’s a true Falcon.”

Wilson is the fifth child in a family of 11. He grew up in Baltimore and Calhoun County, W.Va., where he graduated from Calhoun County High School in 1978. He left high school and went straight to work, spending several years working in the oil and gas industry as a liquid nitrogen fracking specialist.  

In 1986, when Wilson was 26, the oil and gas industry began a steep decline, so he decided to go back to school and chose Fairmont State to study business. It was a great choice, he said.

“When my way of making a living ended abruptly, I was at a crossroads in life,” Wilson said. “Fairmont State and the good people that make the university took me in as part of its family and gave me the environment to work hard and learn.” 

Professors like Bennett, Glenn Harman and Joan Lawrence played a tremendous role in helping him to succeed. 

“Harman challenged me in the classroom and helped me to prepare for the CPA exam as I finished my college career at Fairmont State,” he said.  “Lawrence assisted me in the classroom, as well as intervening to help with schedule conflicts.”

It took a combined effort for him to complete his four-year degree in just two years, graduating Summa Cum Laude. After graduation, the help didn’t end. Bennett recommended Wilson for a graduate assistant position at West Virginia University. Twelve months after graduating from Fairmont State, Wilson completed his master’s in accounting at WVU. 

After earning his master’s Wilson worked for Deloitte, Haskins & Sells, a Big 8 accounting firm in Pittsburgh. Three years later he joined the corporate tax department of PNC Bank and completed his master’s of tax program at Robert Morris University.  

After 13 years at PNC, in 2003, he started his own accounting practice, Wilson & Schmidt in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. In 2007, he co-founded and co-owned Cox Well Service, LLC (CWS) in Spencer, WV.  In 2013, Wilson reorganized the accounting practice as Schmidt & Wilson, LLC, and his long-time associate, Laurie Schmidt, became the partner in charge.

Wilson currently shares his life with Lisa Rahuba. He is the father of four and has helped two of his own children as well as nieces, nephews and extended family attend college. 

“I decided to sponsor a scholarship in Gary Bennett's name in recognition of his efforts to assist me on my journey through Fairmont State,” Wilson said.  “Through this Scholarship, Gary Bennett’s efforts will help other students achieve their goals as well.”