Arkansas State University's board of trustees voted Tuesday to name its business college after 1948 graduate F. O'Neil "Neil" Griffin of Kerrville, Texas, who is donating $10 million to the university.
The gift is the largest single donation in A-State's history. The university made the announcement Tuesday in Jonesboro.
The gift will be used to establish three chairs or professorships: the H. B. Foster Bowdon Chair of Accounting, the Neil Griffin Dean of Business and the Neil Griffin Professor of Entrepreneurship.
The first chair honors Foster Bowdon, an A-State professor who served as Griffin's mentor. Bowden gave up time on weekends and during summer breaks to work independently with Griffin on his accounting classes when Griffin was a student.
The endowment creates new Griffin Scholarships for students in the college, the Griffin Student Investment Fund for use by students in the university’s wealth management programs and the Gena Griffin International Travel Fund, named in recognition of Griffin’s wife.
A Griffin Excellence Fund will also provide discretionary funds for the new Griffin Dean of Business.
In 2012, Griffin donated $5 million to create the Griffin Scholars Endowment Fund. The gift was among the largest in the history of the university.
Griffin is the former owner of First National Bank of Kerrville, CEO of Mountain Banks Ltd. and former vice chairman of First City Bancorporation.
He is originally from the Needham Community between Jonesboro and Bowman.
Griffin lied about his age to join the Navy when he was "not quite 17," he said Tuesday when A-State announced the donation and school's name change.
He returned to Nettleton High School a World War II veteran and was told he should go to college because he'd always done well in school, even skipping a few grades because he said he had 10 siblings and read his older siblings' schoolbooks.
His parents, who had fifth-grade and eighth-grade educations, encouraged him to seek higher education. The high school principal sent a letter of introduction to the dean at A-State, and Griffin passed an entrance exam to enroll at the college.
He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration in just two and a half years, graduating in 1948 with help from the GI Bill.
Griffin went on to receive a master's degree in Texas. "In all of my philanthropy, education is No. 1. Education changes your life," he said. Griffin has also made provisions for a follow-on estate gift that will provide signicant future enhancements at the school.
A-State Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said Tuesday that he approached the Neils about a donation when he arrived at the university last year.
"Your heart is with the young people of Arkansas State University and the search that they have for learning and the way that this gift will change their careers and their lives. Just as you were in the 1940s, they are mostly from this Delta region. Many of them are still the first generation in their family to reach college," Damphousse said.
A-State is conducting a search for a permanent business school dean and the naming of the two professorships will follow its selection of a dean later this year.