John Pirri Jr., a retired veterinarian and alumnus from the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, has pledged a gift totaling more than $6.8 million for the immediate and long-term facility needs for UK Ag Equine Programs’ undergraduate efforts.
Pirri graduated from UK in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and again in 1952 with a master’s degree. He went on to complete his degree in veterinary medicine from Iowa State University, and after a few stops along the way in Florida and Georgia, built a successful small-animal practice in Connecticut. He is now retired and resides in South Carolina.
While it has been more than six decades since Pirri was a student at UK, he has never forgotten his time in Kentucky. His love for horses and horse racing, as well as his memories of visiting Kentucky’s top horse farms as a student, were part of what inspired him to give to a program teaching the future leaders of the horse industry.
“I never did forget Kentucky,” he said. “I had a good time in Kentucky. I enjoyed myself in Kentucky. My memories of Kentucky have always been good.”
Pirri always had a passion for horse racing, and while his studies were busy, he made time to go to the area farms, calling those visits his salvation. He visited top farms such as Calumet, Claiborne and Spendthrift, where he knew and followed the horses. He said the farms were used to him showing up on his “little putt putt bike.” He studied genetics as part of his degree emphasis and was interested in the bloodlines of the racehorses he followed.
Pirri recalls fondly his time at UK. Back then, the equine educational landscape on campus was radically different than it is today. There was no equine undergraduate major and certainly no dedicated facility for teaching horse handling. Fast forward 65 years, and there is now an equine teaching pavilion on UK’s Maine Chance Farm and an interdisciplinary equine major with approximately 315 students enrolled in the program.
However, the current teaching space on the farm, a very simple indoor pavilion for horse handling that was finished in 2007 is in need of renovations and expansion to accommodate the burgeoning needs of the program.
The pavilion will officially be named the Pirri Equine Teaching Pavilion. Renovations will include construction of teaching space equipped with smart classroom capabilities, installation of heating, ventilation and air conditioning in designated areas of the pavilion and construction of bathrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Dr. Pirri's gift enables our equine program to take a giant leap in service to our students. His passion for horses and students will enable another generation of students to grow and strengthen the equine industry,” said Nancy Cox, dean of the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “We are honored by the confidence he has placed in UK Ag Equine Programs and appreciate the funding he has provided for this excellent facility.”
“This is truly a transformational gift. It will provide our students a chance to put into practice what they have learned in their classes,” said Mick Peterson, director of UK Ag Equine Programs. “Hands-on learning helps them retain the information they’ve learned and can even change how they think about the world.”
UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment through its land-grant mission, reaches across the commonwealth with teaching, research and extension to enhance the lives of Kentuckians.