WEST PLAINS, Mo. – The Grizzly Athletics program at Missouri State University-West Plains has reached an important milestone. Dr. Drew Bennett, the university’s chancellor, announced at Tuesday night’s annual Grizzly Sports Banquet that nearly $1.5 million has been generated from private donations and other contributions from area businesses and residents, as well as the accumulated earnings from those contributions, to go toward endowed scholarships for student athletes.
“The Grizzly Athletics endowment program began through the foresight and wisdom of the program’s founders,” said Tom Marhefka, a long-time member and past president of the Grizzly Booster Club Executive Board of Directors. “Within only a few years after Grizzly Athletics was established, the Grizzly Booster Club Executive Board of Directors decided to provide opportunities for Grizzly fans to establish permanent, named scholarship endowments. At the time, we believed we would never see the fruition of the endowment program, but it advanced more rapidly than we thought. We hope to take it to still another level.”
“Over 20 years ago, we knew we wanted men’s and women’s sports teams to contribute to the growth of the institution and to round out the full college experience for all students,” added Jerry Hall, a local businessman who was involved with Grizzly Athletics from its first mention in the early 1990s. “After launching the program with great fanfare and enthusiasm, we quickly discovered there’s a business side to college athletics. Looking back, it’s obvious the endowment program is one of the best answers to that particular challenge.”
Dr. Herb Lunday, dean of student services and director of Grizzly Athletics, said the endowment program began in 1997 when the board set aside $10,000 for a Grizzly Athletics endowed scholarship to honor outgoing chancellor Dr. Marvin Looney. Shortly thereafter, with their awareness of the Missouri State University Bears’ endowment program, board members decided to pursue additional endowments to enable businesses and individuals to support Grizzly Athletics in a perpetual way while receiving tax benefits.
“Local businessman Alan Ramseur established the next Grizzly endowment in a very interesting way,” Lunday recalled. “Alan won a bass boat and motor when he struck a hole-in-one at a golf tournament. He then auctioned the boat and gave the proceeds toward a scholarship. The Grizzly Booster Club was then off and running to pursue additional endowments. The goal that was often expressed was to get to $250,000 within 15 years, but with everyone’s hard work, we’ve met and surpassed that goal several times over.”
Although no fundraising and endowment statistics are kept by the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), officials there have been very impressed with the athletics endowment program developed at Missouri State-West Plains, Lunday added. “I would estimate that the Grizzly endowment program at Missouri State-West Plains easily ranks in the top 1 percent of all NJCAA member institutions,” he said. “I would not be at all surprised if we were to learn that the Grizzlies are, in fact, THE national leader, and by a significant margin.”
What makes the endowment program so attractive to supporters of Grizzly Athletics is the endowment concept itself. Donors can contribute or pledge amounts of $10,000 or more to fully endow a scholarship fund, and the donor has the privilege of naming the fund and establishing the criteria for selecting a recipient. The amount may be paid in one lump sum or minimum annual installments of $1,000, not to exceed 10 years. Contributions are managed by professional financial consultants through the Missouri State University Foundation, a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation.
Contributions are tax deductible to the full extent of the U.S. tax code and are never spent for any purpose. Instead, each year a portion of the earnings from the endowment is used for the scholarship award. Any remaining earnings are placed in the scholarship endowment fund to ensure capital growth.
“It is simultaneously beautiful and simple. Individuals or businesses set aside sums of money that are never spent for any purpose. The money is invested in the Missouri State University Foundation, and the earnings are used to help fund scholarships. This occurs annually and in perpetuity, giving the donors a lasting legacy of support for the program,” Lunday explained.
To date, there are 40 named scholarships, some of which are fully endowed and others that are maturing or restricted, Lunday said. All, however, go toward ensuring that student athletes receive the best education possible at Missouri State-West Plains, which is the thrust of the program, he stressed.
“Through the enthusiastic vision of early supporters, a foundation has been laid that, if finished, will ensure the funding security of Grizzly Athletics at Missouri State-West Plains from now on. It will take great effort, but who would have thought we could have come as far as we already have,” Lunday said.
One unique endowment opportunity is the Grizzly Commemorative Endowment, Lunday said. Area residents may contribute any amount to this fund in memory of or in honor of individuals they would like to recognize. The current market value of this particular fund exceeds $16,000, he said.
Although the endowment has reached a milestone, Missouri State-West Plains Chancellor Drew Bennett, who also is a member of the Grizzly Booster Club, said there are more goals to set and reach. “The cost of running our athletic program has always far exceeded the amount raised by donors and boosters. Fortunately, we have many supporters who realize that our athletic endowment must continue to grow or we will lose ground to the constantly rising cost of travel, tuition, room and board,” he said.
Among those supporters are Bennett; former chancellors M.O. Looney, Kent Thomas and the late Fred Marty; and KY3 Sports Director Ned Reynolds, who established the Chancellors’ Grizzly Basketball Endowed Scholarship in August 2012 following the recording of their video “Grizzly Athletics: Securing the Future.” The scholarship demonstrates their personal commitment to the athletics program, Bennett said.
Area residents or business owners who would like to establish their own endowment, contribute to an existing endowment, or obtain more information about Grizzly Athletics, the Grizzly Booster Club or the Grizzly Endowment Program can contact Lunday at 417-255-7225 or HerbLunday@MissouriState.edu.