The Founding Philanthropist Award is the highest honor a member UCM's Founders Society can receive. Membership in the Founders Society is the most prestigious donor recognition at UCM, as this distinction demonstrates a lifetime of commitment and involvement.
Each year during UCM's Founders Week festivities, the Alumni Foundation hosts Founders Society members on campus for a donor recognition event called An Evening of Appreciation. At this event, the Founding Philanthropist Award, and its signature red blazer, is bestowed upon select individuals who have contributed above and beyond the minimum requirement of their Founders Society membership. By means of their generosity, these individuals have truly transformed the lives of UCM students and created opportunities for them beyond what they imagined possible.
The Founders Society recognizes donors who have contributed $25,000 or more cumulative in their lifetime to the UCM Alumni Foundation, through outright gifts or documented planned gift intentions. Learn more about becoming a member of the Founders Society.
2023 Founding Philanthropist: Natalie Prussing Halpin with President Roger Best and First Lady Robin Best
2023 Founding Philanthropist: Phil Roberts
2022 Founding Philanthropists: Dan, '73, '74, and Shirley, '80, Power
2022 Founding Philanthropists: Jackie and Lynn Harmon
2021 Founding Philanthropist: Bob Russell
2021 Founding Philanthropist: Sandra Wright, '62, with Mr. Dennis Duncan
Jim Crane was born in St. Louis, Missouri. His tireless work ethic, competitive nature and commitment to excellence came through in his youth as a standout pitcher for UCM (CMSU at the time). Jim received numerous awards and to this day holds pitching records. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Safety from UCM in 1976.
In 1984, at the age of 30, Jim founded Eagle Global Logistics (EGL) with $10,000 borrowed from his sister. He grew and transformed EGL from a domestic freight forwarder with two employees to a leading provider of global end-to-end supply chain solutions and logistics with 10,000 employees. In 1995, he took the company public. By 2007, EGL won numerous awards for growth and reached #599 on the Fortune 1000 list. With the proceeds from the sale of EGL, Jim formed his investment management company, Crane Capital Group. He is also the CEO of Crane Capital Group and Chairman of the Board for his various companies.
In 2008, he returned to the freight and logistics business, starting Crane Worldwide Logistics with its first office in Houston, Texas. In 2010, he purchased The Floridian and quickly turned it into one of the nation’s premier golf clubs. In 2011, Major League Baseball unanimously approved his acquisition of the Houston Astros.
Jim is the largest investor, control person and Chairman of the Board for the Astros. In 2017, for the first time in the team’s long history, the Houston Astros won the World Series. It was a dream come true for a standout pitcher from Missouri, Astros fans and the city of Houston.
In 2017, Jim acquired DAVACO, North American leader in the management and execution of high-volume remodels and technology deployments for global brands, and founded Crane Safety, a commercial safety supply and training company. Additionally, he opened the restaurants Osso & Kristalla and Potente, as well as the Aperture Cellars winery.
In 1998, Jim was the primary underwriter of a $1.2 million renovation of the old Mules Field at UCM. The facility was renamed the James R. Crane Stadium/Robert N. Tompkins Field in honor of Jim and his beloved coach. He has continued his generous support of numerous Mules Baseball projects since that time, most recently providing $1.5 million for the Crane Stadium Expansion Project. He continues to provide annual athletic scholarships for Mules Baseball players. In 1997, Jim was inducted into the UCM Athletic Hall of Fame, and in 2017, he was enshrined in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame for his outstanding pitching career at the University of Central Missouri, his generous donations to UCM Baseball and his successful efforts in rebuilding the Houston Astros franchise. The University of Central Missouri Alumni Foundation recognized his exceptional achievements by presenting him with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2006. He was an inaugural recipient of the Founding Philanthropist Award in 2021.
The inaugural recipent of the Founding Philanthropist award in 2021 was Melville U. Foster.
Melville U. Foster was a member of a large family in Warrensburg, Missouri. He fought in the American Civil War as a member of Company C, 27th Missouri Infantry (mounted) Union, mustering out as a captain in 1865. After serving, Melville turned his focus to educational accessibility. He served on the Warrensburg School Board as School District Secretary, helping open the first Warrensburg schools in 1866. The Foster School (pictured above) opened as a public school for grades K-12, later becoming home to the first classes of Normal School No. 2. When the bid went out in 1870 for the location of the Normal School, Melville played an intricate role in bringing the college to its current home. Even after the bid was originally awarded to Sedalia, he and others persisted in advocating for Warrensburg. A telegraphed bid was sent after the initial announcement was made, causing the Board of Regents to reconsider their decision. The new bid included a 20-acre tract to be donated by Melville, making Johnson County’s bid stand out to the Board of Regents. On April 26, 1871, the board awarded the Normal School No. 2 to Warrensburg.
Shortly after Melville donated the land that constitutes UCM’s original campus footprint, he met the love of his life, Annie. They were married until her death in November 1872. Melville passed away shortly after, leaving a legacy of education for service that has lasted 150 years.
Natalie Prussing Halpin has been a force to be reckoned with in the Warrensburg community for many years. Her ancestors were early settlers in the area, dating back to 1868.
It was that year when Natalie’s maternal great-grandfather, Alexander Wilson, moved from Ohio to partner in a foundry built along the new railroad tracks at the corner of Pine and Warren streets. Also in 1868, Natalie’s paternal great-grandfather,
Ferdinand Prussing, relocated from Iowa, purchasing 100 acres of pastureland about five miles east of Warrensburg. The now 260 acres is known as the UCM Prussing Farm, gifted to the university by Natalie in 2002.
Natalie’s parents, Max McKee Prussing and Natalie Wilson, both graduated from Normal
School No. 2 (now UCM). Her mother was a basketball standout and went on to attend
Sargent College of Allied Health Professions at Boston University, which was also
the alma mater of legendary UCM Coach Millie Barnes. Natalie Sr. taught physical education
for many years in Tennessee, Texas and Missouri. In 1917 she established the first
private girls camp west of the Mississippi River, a summer
wilderness retreat called Camp Carry-On on the Niangua River. After serving in World War I in the same regiment as future President Harry S. Truman, Max moved to Linn Creek, which was near Camp Carry-On and served as the original county seat.
He was working as a self-taught civil engineer in early 1928 when “Captain Nat,” as Natalie Sr. was affectionately known, hired her fellow Warrensburg native to help build a new camp with permanent cabins instead of tents, running water and even electricity. Little did they know that Linn Creek would be underwater when Bagnell Dam was completed a year later. Captain Nat’s next camp location was on the Jacks Fork River about 100 miles south, built, of course, by Max. It was there that Natalie Jr. spent every summer until the camp was forced to close due to World War II.
Max would be hired as supervising surveyor for the Lake of the Ozarks project. He would also build and design the new county seat of Camdenton, serving there as presiding judge. In the fall of 1940 he was hired to oversee the building of Fort Leonard Wood.
Max and “Captain Nat” married in 1935, and Max returned to Warrensburg often to help
manage the family farm. From 1938, the year Natalie Jr. was born, until 1942, Max
served on the Board of Regents for the university, then known as Central Missouri
State Teachers College. After a forest fire on Easter Sunday 1941, followed by another
that destroyed nearby Ha Ha Tonka Castle, the family moved to Warrensburg. Natalie
Jr. rode her Shetland pony, Merry Legs, five blocks from the family’s home to the
kindergarten at CMSTC when she was 5 years old. One morning a business owner told
her to stop riding her pony
past his shop, and she rode home crying. Her mother sighed and said, “Nat, for heaven’s sake, ride your pony on the other side of the street!”
Not only was this the beginning of Natalie’s love for horses, which would be a lifelong passion, but it was also a valuable life lesson. Whenever presented with an obstacle, she remembers there’s more than one side of the street. Reflecting on her life, Natalie is glad she was raised in a saddle instead of a high chair, with a canoe paddle instead of a silver spoon in her hand.
After graduating from College High School, Natalie attended the University of Arizona in Tucson before earning a degree from the Tobé-Coburn School for Fashion Careers in New York City and working at Saks Fifth Avenue and another major department store. While attending the Tobé-Coburn School, she met an FBI agent named Steve Halpin, who had served as a P-47 fighter pilot in World War II, flying 53 airborne missions. They married in Warrensburg in 1961, and Steve was assigned to Atlanta, Georgia, to investigate civil rights-related violence, including the famous “Mississippi Burning” case, which later inspired a feature film of the same name. Natalie enjoyed a successful career as a fashion buyer for Rich’s Department Stores, the largest department store in the South. In 1970, Steve retired, and the couple moved back to Warrensburg and built a house of their own on “Hurricane Hill.”
After Steve’s passing in 2008, Natalie continued her commitment to the family farm and continued to lead an active community life, including volunteering for causes related to politics and conservation.
In 2018, Natalie published “The Captain and the Judge: Building Camps, Forts, Dams, Bridges and Character Across the Ozarks.” The book tells the story of her family and of Prussing Farm, which is an official Missouri Centennial Farm. Natalie’s grandfather, George Prussing, built the mule barn in 1902, and her father, Max Prussing, built the homestead in 1921. Natalie remembers visiting her grandparents every Sunday for dinner and riding her horses in the pastures. She continued to ride well into her 70s, participating in trail-riding clubs with names like “The Saddle Bags” and “Desperate Horsewives.”
Thanks to Natalie’s decision to donate her family’s farm in 2002, the land and its historical structures now serve as a living classroom for UCM students. Prussing Farm is home to UCM’s Trap and Skeet team and many of the university’s livestock, including hogs, registered Simmental cattle, the oldest closed herd of purebred Aberdeen-Angus cattle in the United States — and, of course, UCM’s live mule mascots, Tammy and Molly. Natalie continues to have an active interest in the farm’s operations and takes pride in knowing that her family’s legacy will live on in generations of students who will advance Missouri’s agriculture industry for many years to come. Natalie accepted the Founding Philanthropist Award in 2023 at An Evening of Appreciation.
Carl Adrian Harmon and Margaret Katherine Harmon had a lifelong affiliation with Central
Missouri State College, Central Missouri State University and the University of Central
Missouri. From their first gift in 1982 to their last in 2014, Adrian and
Margaret contributed over $2.6 million to this historic university.
Adrian and Margaret were lifelong partners in marriage and business. They had ventures in livestock, farm machinery and auto sales before purchasing the controlling interest in Citizens Bank of Warrensburg in 1953. An objective was to create a business environment that allowed the children and their families to be involved, interacting with one another and their parents. The acquisition of banks in western Missouri, including Kansas City, was the answer. By 1972, they had controlling interest in four banks in western Missouri and a successful mortgage banking business in Springfield. The family then formed Central Mortgage Bancshares Inc. The final expansion took place when Central Mortgage Bancshares Inc. elected to complete a public offering allowing the company to expand in the Kansas City market. In 1995, Adrian and Margaret decided it was time to slow down and recommended the company accept an offer to merge with the Mercantile Bancorp of St. Louis. At the time of the merger, Central Mortgage Bancshares Inc. had total assets exceeding $700 million.
Outside of business, they were 65-year members of the First United Methodist Church of Warrensburg. Adrian was a 50+ year member of the Corinthian Masonic Lodge #265 (32nd Degree) and life member of Elks Lodge #673 and Warrensburg Rotary Club (Paul Harris Fellow). Margaret was a 50+ year member of PEO Chapter KD, Past State President of the Federated Women’s Club and a 57-year member of Daughters of the American Revolution.
Their support of Central spanned many decades and is felt today. They are best known for their support of the Harmon College of Business and Professional Studies, named in their honor, as well as the Adrian and Margaret Harmon Business Graduate Scholarship. In 1929, Adrian attended his first Mules game. In 1949 both he and Margaret became season ticket holders, later becoming charter members of the Mule Train Athletic Booster Club. They often opened their home to Central student-athletes in the days before residence halls were common and loaned their personal airplane to coaches for use in recruiting trips. When they were inducted into Central Missouri’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2004, it was said that Adrian and Margaret Harmon could be considered “the first family of Central Athletic Boosters.”
The accomplishment they were most proud of, however, was raising their family, including three children, eight grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. The Harmon's received the Founding Philanthropist award posthumously in 2022.
Lynn Adrian Harmon and Jackie Harmon cannot remember a time when they were not intertwined with the University of Central Missouri. Over the past 73 years, they have supported UCM with their time, talent and treasure. They are the caretakers of the Central-Harmon family legacy and carry out this task seriously in all that they do.
Brought to Warrensburg by his family in 1949, Lynn recalls being on campus as a kindergarten student all the way through high school. Jackie grew up on a farm north of Warrensburg and attended Farmers Elementary School before she also came to campus. They met at College High, where Jackie was elected Yearbook Queen. They married in 1964 and lived for a while in Columbia before returning to Warrensburg.
Jackie is a retired educator who earned her master’s degree at UCM. Lynn is a retired banker whose career started at Citizens Bank of Warrensburg as assistant cashier in 1966. As the family banking operation grew, so did his duties, titles and responsibilities. After many acquisitions, two public offerings and growth, the multibank holding company, Central Mortgage Bancshares Inc., was a publicly owned company with stock traded on the NASDAQ exchange under the symbol “CMBI.” As CMBI continued to grow, several larger banking companies proposed acquisition plans. In 1994 a successful merger into Mercantile Bancorp Inc. of St. Louis was negotiated. The merger closed in 1995 with Lynn serving as chairman and CEO. He was also appointed to UCM’s Board of Governors from 1995 to 2001, serving as president in 1999.
Both Lynn and Jackie are still very involved in activities at UCM. They enjoy attending Mules and Jennies games as well as a wide variety of fine arts performances. Lynn and Jackie carry out their parents’ example of supporting UCM students however they can including providing room and board, transportation and encouragement to complete their education. They are also proud 55-year members of First Baptist Church in Warrensburg.
Lynn and Jackie’s contributions uphold the legacy of Adrian and Margaret in the Harmon College of Business and Professional Studies, home to the School of Aviation. Lynn and Jackie have several scholarships at UCM, the most recent one through the Rotary Foundation in honor of Lynn’s good friend Duane Sterling, intended to bring international students to live and learn at UCM. They are also known for their gift honoring their youngest daughter, Meridith Harmon Sauer. The result was the university’s first permanently endowed professorship and endowed guest artist series for the Department of Theatre and Dance. Lynn considers their gifts as part of a continuous circle, spanning decades and generations of their family and friends.
Lynn and Jackie are proud parents of three children: Monte, Shanna and Meridith. The Harmons also enjoy their eight grandchildren. Lynn and Jackie accepted the Founding Philanthropist Award in 2022 at An Evening of Appreciation.
Voncile Bowen Huffman was born July 13, 1920, in Clifton Hill, Missouri. She was the
only child of Thomas and
Fannie Bowen. Voncile had a passion for education and attended Central Missouri State Teachers College, now UCM,
graduating with a degree in Elementary Education Functions in 1942. She moved to Denver in 1946, where she met and
married Mervin C. Huffman, who was a colonel in the U.S. Air Force and held a patent for a drilling device now produced by Gardner Denver.
After Mervin passed away in 1984, Voncile went on to obtain a master’s and a doctorate
in Education from the University of Denver. Her dissertation focused on beginning
reading materials for bilingual children. She spent 38 years with Denver Public Schools,
serving as a teacher and principal. In addition to her passion for education, Voncile
championed Park Hill United
Methodist Church, as well as Delta Kappa Gamma, Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO) Sisterhood, Zonta International, the Park Hill Art Club of Denver, the American Guild of Organists and many other cultural and civic organizations. She supported her alma mater in numerous ways, including through UCM’s Central Annual Fund and the Alumni Legacy Scholarship. She was avidly interested in art, photography and gardening.
Voncile passed away in 2002. She and Mervin are buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver. After her death, the UCM Alumni Foundation received a $2 million bequest to support students seeking to become educators like Voncile. Now, pver 20 years later, more than 250 undergraduate students majoring in Education have received the Voncile Bowen Huffman Scholarship at the University of Central Missouri. The university commends Voncile for a life well lived, and strives to fulfill her vision of seeing more students become great teachersby bestowing the Founding Philanthropist Award to her posthumously in 2023.
John Spillman Jones was a Warrensburg native and 1912 graduate of the Missouri State Normal School for the Second District, now known as the University of Central Missouri. After completing his degree, he attended the University of Chicago, earning his juris doctorate.
John practiced law and had a lengthy career in management working as a sales director
for Ralston Purina, known today as Nestlé Purina PetCare. He and his wife, Kathleen
Kerr Jones, had two children and enjoyed time with them on their family
farm in Warrensburg.
Their two grandchildren, who now reside in California, recall their grandparents with
happy memories and are immensely
proud of their grandfather’s generational philanthropy. “His grandchildren and greatgrandchildren are extremely proud of
his decision to leave a legacy gift to the University of Central Missouri,” says Cathy Clay, one of John’s grandchildren. She says she has fond recollections of traveling to Warrensburg to spend time on her grandparents’ farm.
Kathleen passed away in 1961, and John passed in 1968. Having a longtime affiliation and appreciation for the local community, John and Kathleen are both buried at Sunset Hills Cemetery on a family plot that includes the graves of John’s parents and grandparents.
In 2021, the UCM Alumni Foundation received documentation for a gift to UCM through
a trust agreement. Because of John’s thoughtful financial investment strategies throughout
his lifetime, this bequest is currently valued at $20 million. As of 2022, it
is the largest planned gift in the history of the University of Central Missouri. Although this contribution will not be received for a number of years, per the donor’s trust agreement, the university is thankful for his generosity. It provides a significant financial boost for the institution to meet its greatest need, which is serving students. John Spillman Jones received the Founding Philanthropist award posthumously in 2022.
Dan and Shirley Power are shining examples of the UCM promise of “Education for Service.” Both individuals have spent their lives in service to others, always giving back to their communities.
While earning two education degrees from UCM — a bachelor’s in 1973 and a master’s in 1974 — Dan wrestled for the Mules under Coach Roger Denker, who recruited him to campus from Aurora, Illinois. Dan was an MIAA champion, served as team captain, was voted most valuable wrestler and was inducted into Central Missouri’s Athletic Hall of Fame as part of the 1972–73 wrestling team in 2008. Following graduation, he became a high school wrestling coach whose teams earned numerous conference, regional and state titles. Changing his career to real estate, he quickly earned honors as Kansas City Area Rookie of the Year. In 1981, he joined Edward Jones and within three years became a limited partner. When Dan retired from his 35-year career, he had qualified five times in the company’s top 3 percent of advisors and had earned corporate awards annually for 30 years.
Shirley graduated from UCM in 1980 with a degree in Home Economics in Business, Textiles and Clothing. When the couple moved to Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1981 she left retail management to work as an Edward Jones branch office administrator for more than 15 years. Influenced by music in her childhood home, Shirley volunteers her time as church pianist and is an active member of the Hutchinson Symphony Board. In honor of her late mother, a 1944 Central Missouri State Teachers College graduate, she established the Laura L. Raker Barr Scholarship for Teacher Education in 2007. As her mother said, “Learning is a continuous process, and no matter what field of study a person goes into, there are teachers involved in their success.”
Dan gives back through the Roger Denker Memorial Scholarship, which he established
with a former teammate to help Mules Wrestlers obtain their degrees. He also served
on the UCM Foundation Board of Directors for over a decade, helping to guide the organization
through difficult financial times. His leadership as chair of the Finance and Investment
Committee helped the Foundation more than double its total assets
from $23 million to $51 million and triple yearly scholarship awards from $400,000 to $1.2 million. He was honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award for Service in 2016. In 2020, Dan and Shirley made a significant gift to construct a permanent wrestling facility at UCM.
Together, Dan and Shirley support their Hutchinson community. Dan served on the Hutchinson Public Schools Board of Education for eight years, including two as president. He also has been president and has served on the boards of the Hutchinson/Reno County YMCA, the Optimist Club, AMBUCS, the Training and Evaluation Center of Hutchinson, and the Hutchinson Town Club.
Dan and Shirley are pleased and honored to see the spirit of giving continue through their daughter, Sheena, and son, Dane, a 2007 UCM alumnus, who both volunteer their time and resources in their respective communities. Dan compares the value of his UCM degree to breathing oxygen, saying they both are vital in helping him thrive and serve others. “The curriculum and faculty opened doors in all aspects of my life,” he said. “We believe the greatest gifts are those that are not required or expected, but rather are given out of appreciation for how we have been blessed.” Dan and Shirley accepted the Founding Philanthropist Award in 2022 at An Evening of Appreciation.
Phil Roberts is a living embodiment of UCM’s motto of “Education for Service.” He has spent a lifetime supporting his community and the causes he champions, including higher education.
Phil’s father passed away when he was in elementary school, and he spent his youth caring for his mother and working in the family-owned print shop in Kansas City. He began his high school career at East High School and graduated from Manual Career Technical Center in 1945, with a special appreciation for his woodworking classes. Like many young men in the 1940s, Phil enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps shortly after graduation, as his brother did before him. He completed basic training in
May 1945 just as World War II ended. He was stationed in Panama beginning in December 1945, and returned home in October 1946. Once discharged, Phil went to work in the shipping and metal department for a company that made aviation radios in Kansas City, earning 75 cents an hour. In 1947, Phil decided to pursue higher education using his GI Bill benefits. He began taking classes at Central Missouri State College, now the University of Central Missouri, before transferring to Southwest Missouri State College, now Missouri State University, where he completed his bachelor’s degree in Accounting in 1950.
After graduation, Phil went to work for Dun and Bradstreet, a credit reporting agency.
He later started a house-moving and logistics company under his own name. He moved
more than 70 homes from Kansas City to Independence, Missouri.
He also built a commercial shopping center and gas station near the HiBoy Drive-In on Highway 40 in Independence, and another gas station in Raytown. During his career, Phil purchased tax-free industrial bonds with the intention of supporting educational causes later in life. He has supported the Independence School District, Missouri State University and the University of Central Missouri. A 20-acre park in Independence bears his name. In October 2021, he made a $1 million gift to the UCM Alumni Foundation to establish the Phil Roberts Scholarship for Business, available to students in a program under
the Harmon College of Business and Professional Studies. As of 2023, more than 30 students have benefited from this scholarship, with many more to come in the years ahead. When reflecting on why he has supported education, Phil remarked, “I had the GI Bill when I was in college. After working for 75 cents an hour, education offered me the opportunity to do something that would benefit me in the future. ... I know how hard it is. It was tough, and I want to pay it forward by giving to support education.”
Phil has four sons: Ray, Bill, Ralph and Phil Jr. “Ed” along with several grandchildren. The University of Central Missouri commends Phil for his service to his country, his dedication to his community and his passion for education so that future students may have the same opportunities he had to succeed. Phil accepted the Founding Philanthropist Award in 2023 at An Evening of Appreciation.
The Honorable Robert “Bob” G. Russell is a long-time supporter of the University of Central Missouri through contributions of resources and energy with his late wife, Sandra. Bob is a former member of the Central Missouri State Board of Governors and has served as a mentor to many UCM student-athletes. He is known for coaching students through the toughest times, often reminding them that “quitting is just like stealing; each time you do it, it gets easier,” a sentiment he learned from his father. In 2004, Bob received the University’s Distinguished Service Award, and in 2005 he was inducted into the UCM Athletic Hall of Fame for Service. An avid club sport volleyball player during his college days, Bob also provides generous support to the Jennies Volleyball program. In 2013, the team dedicated the Robert G. “Bob” Russell Sand Volleyball Courts in his honor.
Bob did not always know he would pursue law and calls his career path “serendipitous.” A gratifying childhood filled with military-related travel caused Bob to consider a career similar to his father’s in the medical field. However, after a short stint pursuing medicine, he instead followed in his brother’s footsteps to earn his Juris Doctorate at the University of Missouri.
He has had a successful career, serving as Circuit Judge for the Missouri 17th Judicial Circuit from 1970 to 1986 (Presiding Judge in 1982) and is now a partner at Kempton & Russell Trial Lawyers of Sedalia, Missouri.
Sandra earned a degree in art education from the University of Missouri and taught in public schools before becoming a successful real estate agent and developer. Her dedication to the Warrensburg community was tremendous, including service on many boards, such as the UCM Foundation Board of Directors.
Sandra believed that women could achieve anything. Before she passed away in 2013,
she set her sights on a lifelong dream of owning cattle and created the Bucket List
Cattle Company. Bob established the Sandy Russell Memorial Scholarship through the
UCM Alumni Foundation with the goal of supporting female students pursuing a degree
in agriculture. The scholarship fund has already provided significant support to 17
students since its inception.
Bob and Sandra were married for nearly 50 years and spent many evenings together on the UCM campus, cheering on the Mules and Jennies in an athletic matchup or taking in a show. Bob says, “The university is a great place and a great contributor to our community. UCM provides opportunities for education and cultural experiences. I make contributions because giving back is the most rewarding thing you can do. Call me selfish, but the feeling of helping someone is personally rewarding.” Bob accepted the Founding Philanthropist Award in 2021 at An Evening of Appreciation as part of the inaugural class of recipients.
Sandra Wright hails from the small town of Nevada, Missouri. A college degree seemed out of reach to Sandra when she graduated high school, as she had two sisters who were also academically minded and limited financial resources. However, through the generosity of a local car dealership owner, Sandra was able to attend UCM and earn her Bachelor of Science in Art. It is thanks to another UCM alumna that Sandra chose to pursue art and to pursue it here at UCM; she thanks her high school art teacher, Myrle (Rich) Fraser, for inspiring and uplifting her in her artistic pursuits. Myrle was a 1947 graduate of the University of Central Missouri (then CMSC) with a strong sense of pride and passion for her alma mater. Naturally, she encouraged Sandra to seek the same friendly, engaging education that she had experienced.
Following her inspiration from Mrs. Fraser, Sandra attended the University of Central
Missouri and developed friendships and experiences that have stayed with her beyond
graduation. As a student, she gained real-world experience in art as the 1962 Rhetor
yearbook art editor. She also deeply enjoyed many printmaking classes and projects,
which became a base for much of her later artwork. She is quoted as saying, “Art is
the soul of people. You may make a living doing something else, but you always have
art. As long as I can hold a paintbrush, I’ll still be painting.”
Both of these statements ring true for Sandra, who worked as a babysitter, waitress and housekeeper while keeping up with her full-time course load. Upon earning her degree, Sandra moved to Miami, where she worked as a graphic artist and advertising director. She then returned to her home state of Missouri and began working for Southwestern Bell. This is where she met the love of her life, Stanley Wright.
The Wrights enjoyed many wonderful things together: a love of the arts, a determined affection for New York Times crossword puzzles and a loving 30-year marriage. Prior to his passing in 2003, Stanley and Sandra discussed what they would do with the money they had saved up as mortgage lenders and home remodelers. They had always discussed creating a scholarship, and so, they made provisions to create the Stanley and Sandra Wright Scholarship in Art. This scholarship will support the many students who, like Sandra, through determination and the kindness of others, have been able to attend this university in pursuit of an art degree. She hopes that this scholarship will give art students the opportunity to focus less on jobs and more on school and their passion for the arts.
Sandra’s story is a beautiful one that shows the legacy of human connection and generosity. Thanks to the benevolence of the car dealer in Sandra’s hometown, and to the encouragement of her high school art teacher, Sandra and Stanley made a beautiful life for themselves. With the fruits of their hard work, they will also be making a difference in the lives of UCM students. Sandra accepted the Founding Philanthropist Award in 2021 at An Evening of Appreciation as part of the inaugural class of recipients.