In the spirit of those who established Missouri State University-West Plains (MSU-WP) nearly 60 years ago, campus officials have presented long-time West Plains resident and community leader the late Laurel Thompson with the prestigious Granvil Vaughan Founder’s Award.
The announcement of this year’s recipient was made during Saturday’s MSU-WP commencement ceremony by MSU-WP Chancellor Dennis Lancaster at the West Plains Civic Center. Members of Thompson’s family were on hand to receive the award.
Named in honor of campus founder the late Missouri State Rep. Granvil Vaughan, the award recognizes individuals who have made a significant impact upon the mission of MSU-WP.
“Laurel Thompson was an amazingly forward-thinking catalyst for our community and region, and his work in establishing and developing the Missouri State University-West Plains campus is among his premier endeavors,” Lancaster said. “He truly was one of our founders, and we and our students – past, present and future – are all the better for his great gift of time and energy. My only regret is not honoring him sooner, but his legacy, represented by this award, will live on for generations to come.”
More about Laurel Thompson
Thompson worked his whole life to ensure educational and economic opportunities for not only his family, but the entire community. His support of MSU-WP began before the campus’ inception. As a member of a Greater West Plains Area Chamber of Commerce advisory committee for 13 years, he worked hard to bring about the Southwest Missouri State College Residence Center, now MSU-WP.
His first direct involvement with the campus came when the West Plains Rotary Club, of which he was a long-time member, donated $6,000 to obtain books for the residence center’s library, which was maintained at the West Plains High School where the residence center was first located.
Some years later during his tenure as chamber president, he worked with the chamber advisory committee and representatives of the residence center on renovations to the center’s first permanent home, Kellett Hall, and other property acquisitions in the area to establish the campus. The value he and other committee members placed on the residence center and its long-term viability led them to personally sign bank loan documents for these projects.
Although he never attended college himself, education was important to him, and he encouraged his children to do well in school and to continue their education. Four of his five children attended college, with three completing post-graduate degrees. Two of these were awarded through Missouri State University’s Outreach Program housed at the MSU-WP campus.
Laurel Thompson’s support of MSU-WP continued through the decades. He can be found in archived news accounts of university ground-breaking ceremonies, the creation of the West Plains Civic Center which serves as the home for many MSU-WP athletic and community events, and at home games of the Grizzly Basketball and Volleyball teams, ever the booster.
Although Thompson passed in December 2022, his unwavering support for higher education and MSU-WP serves as an inspiration to others and is at the heart of the Granvil Vaughan Founder’s Award.
This is the 23rd year the award has been presented.