Donna Sublett and her late husband, Jim, had courtside seats to Florida Gulf Coast University’s evolution over the past 26 years. With a lifetime of giving to FGCU’s athletic programs amounting to over $3 million, they’ve cemented their place as transformative donors.
A $1 million gift in 2015 established the Sublett Family Strength and Conditioning Center next to FGCU’s Alico Arena. The center allows athletes from the 15 sports that constitute FGCU Athletics to easily transition between workouts and practice sessions. Access to this modern, well-equipped facility means FGCU’s Division I student-athletes can target specific fitness and skill development aspects effectively.
But the Subletts’ impact reaches beyond the dollars donated. For Donna Sublett, it’s about the relationships with coaches and players she and her husband formed as donors.
The Subletts moved from Missouri to Southwest Florida in the 1980s. Big sports fans, they were early supporters of FGCU Athletics and attended the first basketball games played at the Hertz Arena location.
“How we really got involved in giving was our company, First Home Builders, wanted to give Jim a Christmas present. I said, ‘He doesn’t need a thing. If he needed it, he’d buy it,’ ” Sublett recalled. “ ‘Why don’t you donate money to FGCU basketball in his name?’ So that was the first Sublett scholarship.”
Butch Perchan is associate director of athletics emeritus and an FGCU Foundation fundraiser. He remembers the Subletts attending men’s basketball games at Alico Arena as guests in Charlie Edwards’ box suite before they bought their own. But after a year, they requested a change.
“Donna told us, ‘I don’t want to always be up here with eight or 10 people. I want to be in regular seats and give the money to scholarships,’ ” Perchan said.
Once the Subletts moved to floor seats, their focus broadened. They redirected the annual funds that paid for their box suite to student-athlete scholarships.
“My dad always said the reason he had a better life than his brothers was because he had athletic ability and great coaches,” Sublett said. “His parents had no money to pay for college. When they lost their jobs during the Depression, he quit college three or four times and went home to help them.”
Her father had been a three-sport athlete in high school and played collegiate football and basketball. For Sublett, the FGCU scholarships she and her husband donated are one way to see a direct impact on student-athletes like her dad.
“We have this dinner every year with 200 student-athletes and the donors who provided their scholarships. Jim and Donna spurred that on with us when they made it clear they really wanted a relationship with their basketball scholarship recipients,” Perchan said.
“A lot of people want to feel like they have a part in someone’s life and, especially, if they know the player,” Sublett said. “Most of our FGCU fans are older, and to have a relationship with a younger person is so much fun.”
“She really loves them,” said Perchan about Sublett’s scholarship recipients. “She just loved Brett Comer, and she stays close with Chase Fieler and Eddie Murray from that group” — the 2012-13 “Dunk City” team. She also stays close with other basketball players: Marc-Eddy Norelia, Tyra Cox, Sarah Hansen and Alyssa Blair.
It may have started with men’s basketball, but the Subletts’ generosity is felt across all of FGCU’s athletic programs.
Rather than favoring one sport, their commitment speaks to a larger vision — where student-athletes benefit from the resources and opportunities a well-funded athletic department provides.
“More often than not, college athletic donors are real fans who touch just one sport, but Donna and Jim have touched all of them. They’re an athletic administrator’s dream come true,” Perchan said. He still talks about the Subletts as a couple, even though Jim died in 2019.
“We had it in our will that we were going to give FGCU a big donation when we both died,” Sublett said. “But I was talking to our daughter, and I decided, why shouldn’t I see the benefits while I’m living?”
Four years after Jim died, her continued presence at games demonstrates a genuine and enduring connection with FGCU. Her ongoing involvement reminds student-athletes their hard work and dedication are valued and recognized by the Southwest Florida community.