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‘My life started here’: Goodman leads MSU in $250M campaign

The Onward Upward initiative is the largest in school history

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With a star-studded event, Missouri State University unveiled the secret of its monthslong “It’s On” marketing initiative: a $250 million capital campaign led by actor and alumnus John Goodman.

Goodman, who visited Springfield for the Oct. 26 announcement at Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts, is chairing the new initiative called Onward Upward. The largest fundraising campaign in MSU’s history, the project so far has raised more than $150 million from some 50,000 donors during the quiet phase of the campaign, officials say.

“I owe Missouri State – not that I can feel compelled particularly to give anything back, but it gives me great pleasure to do so,” Goodman said in an interview with Springfield Business Journal, prior to the announcement. “My life started here.”

More than 2,000 attendees filled the venue to capacity, and another 1,000 participated in the after-party with giveaways, fireworks and entertainment. During the announcement, Goodman appeared in an interview-style discussion on stage with MSU President Clif Smart. The presentation also included appearances by David Glass, alumnus and owner of the Kansas City Royals, Clay Harbor, a former NFL player and linebacker for the Missouri State Bears who appeared on the 14th season of “The Bachelorette,” and Gov. Mike Parson. The announcement was bookended by songs and performances by the MSU band, with student singers belting out a rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” as stage lights helped close out the announcement.

$150M and counting
Funding brought in by the MSU Foundation is earmarked for facilities, programs, faculty and scholarships.

Brent Dunn, vice president for university advancement and executive director of the MSU Foundation, said the fundraiser is targeting a broad base comprising returning donors, alumni and current students.

“We need to attract younger alumni at a younger age,” he said, noting over half of the 50,000 campaign contributors reached so far are new donors.

Dunn said the Onward Upward campaign, which officially started in 2017, is expected to be completed in 2022. The fundraising team hit the $150 million mark this fall, he said.

Dunn said all staff members at MSU would play a role, and fundraising avenues such as texting and crowdfunding are slated to be utilized in addition to traditional phone and mail campaigns. The campaign cabinet, led by Goodman, will be tasked with putting out the word to their networks, as well.

Goodman’s fame is key to the campaign, Dunn said, noting university officials began conversations with him two and a half years ago.

“Obviously, he is our most recognizable alum in the world,” Dunn said, noting MSU wanted to find a way to include him while he’s still a working actor. “We just said, ‘Hey, here’s some of the priorities in the campaign we’re looking at.’ One of them was dealing with the Tent Theatre and making that into a permanent-type structure.”

That resonated with Goodman, Dunn said, as the actor had performed at the Tent Theatre in the 1970s.

“It didn’t take him long to agree to that,” Dunn said.

The campaign includes a mix of new and previously announced projects:

• expansion of IDEA Commons that includes a 30,000-square-foot addition to the Jordan Valley Innovation Center and a rooftop event space at the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center, where the efactory is housed;

• construction of a permanent Tent Theatre;

• three new buildings, such as a livestock show barn, for the Darr College of Agriculture;
• a student-managed investment fund;

• the renovation of the Professional Building;

• over 200 new student scholarships;

• the Davis-Harrington Welcome Center;

• Greenwood Laboratory School expansion;

• Bill & Lucille Magers Family Health & Wellness Center; and

• the Betty and Bobby Allison Recreation and Intramural Field.

During the event, Smart said he and his wife Gail are establishing four new professorships in English, music, musical theater and political science. The gift is valued at $1 million. The couple’s first professorship – a $300,000 pledge made in 2012 to the Darr College of Agriculture – will be fully funded by next year, Clif Smart said.

“The student journey begins and ends in the classroom with faculty interaction. It’s the foundation of the education we provide,” he said. “We must continue to attract and retain great faculty.”

Star power
MSU drew on its alumni network to help create buzz for the event, which first was teased in the spring with the “It’s On” messaging appearing on the downtown Kenneth E. Meyer Alumni Center. Only the date and time of the announcement were on the 35-foot tall banner, which recently was replaced with “Onward Upward” messaging.

School officials kept the secret close to the vest until this month, when it was announced Goodman, Glass and Harbor would be in attendance. The $250 million campaign was not unveiled to the public until the Saturday night event.

SBJ spoke with the three special guests prior to the event as members of the media were invited to Hammons Hall.

A 1975 graduate from the Missouri town of Affton, near St. Louis, Goodman said he gained a “real curiosity for learning” at MSU that he didn’t have in high school. He fondly recalls his time on campus, where he was a theater major and participated in Greek life.

“Nothing specific comes to mind: Just laughing with my friends … being young and being around a lot of like-minded people, and being a smart-ass,” he said.

Goodman said he made a contribution to the university’s campaign. When asked the amount, he joked, “$149 million.”

MSU’s Dunn classified Goodman’s donation as a “significant lead gift” that’s being directed toward the permanent Tent Theatre project. He declined to disclose the amount.

Another lead donor is Glass, whose name adorns the David D. Glass Hall home of the MSU College of Business. Also the former president and CEO of Walmart Inc. (NYSE: WMT), Glass has made significant donations to MSU, including funding for the latest $30 million expansion and renovation to the academic building completed in 2017. Dunn said the Glass Hall project is considered part of the Onward Upward campaign.

“I’ve enjoyed the growth of the business school here,” said Glass, who has a deal in the works to sell the Kansas City Royals for a reported $1 billion. “I’d compare it with any of the other universities in the Midwest.”

Harbor was born in a small town and says his transition to higher education was a catalyst.

Harbor came to Springfield from central Illinois. He said his brother first attended MSU and convinced school officials to give him a shot with a football scholarship. Harbor went on to be a three-time All-American at MSU and in 2010 was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.

“It’s crazy how it all works out,” said Harbor, who’s currently a free agent. “Without Missouri State, I mean, who knows?”

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