Fund honors daughter of University alumni, supports regional hemp industry and Murray State Center for Agricultural Hemp

MURRAY, Ky. —  The Murray State University Hutson School of Agriculture has announced the establishment of the Clara Gilliam Fund for Excellence, named after the daughter of Murray State alumni Jerry and Julie Gilliam.

The fund, made possible by a generous gift from Christian County farmers Joseph and Lisa Sisk, supports the development of the Murray State Center for Agricultural Hemp and the growing hemp and CBD industry throughout the region.

Clara is the namesake of the Clara Madeline Gilliam Act, which exempted cannabidiol (CBD) from the state definition of marijuana-related drugs and allowed it to be administered by physicians at state research hospitals, institutions of higher education or in clinical trials after it was made law in 2014. 

Diagnosed with Aicardi syndrome, which causes seizures and hinders the ability to move and communicate, Clara has seen an improved quality of life under her CBD treatment plan. Now 6 years old, Clara was not expected to live past the age of 4. Even though she is non-communicative amidst a battle with cancer and additional challenges, Clara continues to fight with the support of her parents. 

“As a diversified farming operation, we have incorporated hemp production into our rotation,” Joseph said. “As we made our way into this, we dedicated ourselves to giving back to the industry. It is a ‘research’ program in the truest sense, and those of us involved have the responsibility of maintaining the health and legitimacy of the program for other farmers that join the industry.  Because of the special connection between Murray State and the Gilliam family from Hopkinsville, we wanted to make this foundational gift to the Clara Gilliam Fund for Excellence and are hopeful that others will join us in this funding effort.”

Jerry is currently a representative for AgQuest Financial Services and was formerly the founding teacher in the agricultural technology program at Hopkinsville Community College. He was named as an inaugural Murray State outstanding young agriculture alumnus recipients. Jerry was also recently elected as a magistrate in Christian County, Kentucky. 

Julie is an agriculture teacher at Todd County High School and is an avid supporter and lecturer in the Racer Academy of Agriculture. 

“As graduates of the Murray State agriculture program, Julie and I are humbled and blessed by this donation from the Sisks to establish this fund in honor of Clara,” Jerry said. “Clara is an amazing young lady who, although challenged in life, has blessed us tremendously. Certainly, the help that she has received through hemp-based products has helped her in her journey. We are hopeful that through this funding, the research and development of hemp at Murray State through the Center can continue to help Clara and others through the development of hemp and hemp related opportunities.”

The Murray State University Hutson School of Agriculture (HSOA) has announced the establishment of the Clara Gilliam Fund for Excellence, named after the daughter of Murray State alumni Jerry and Julie Gilliam. Pictured from left: HSOA Assistant Dean Dr. Brian Parr, donor Joseph Sisk, Julie, Clara and Jerry Gilliam and HSOA Dean Dr. Tony Brannon.

The inaugural issue of the Journal of Agricultural Hemp published by the Murray State Center for Agricultural Hemp was dedicated to Clara. All three Gilliams were awarded Hemp Hero medallions at the Center’s most recent foundational partnership meeting. 

As a follow-up to the establishment of the Gilliam Fund, the Center for Agricultural Hemp has announced several different giving levels to support the fund and the Center.  They are the Business Gold Level ($5,000 for five years), Business Blue ($1,000 annually) and a Farmer level ($500 annually). Anyone interested in supporting this fund is encouraged to contact Abby Hensley at ahensley2@murraystate.edu.

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