Jim D. Morris, a Springfield, Mo.-based entrepreneur and real estate developer, has donated $813,000 to Columbia College announced Sept. 23 at the Columbia College-Rolla 15th anniversary celebration. Morris made a donation of property in Rolla West, the city’s primary development zone, that will be used for a new Columbia College-Rolla campus to be dedicated next summer.
Watch a video of the event
The campus' current building is about 9,000 square feet. The new building, at 37,000 square feet, will more than quadruple the size of the campus. Students, faculty, staff, members of the college's board of trustees and community members from the Rolla Chamber of Commerce and Phelps County were also present.
At the gift announcement, President Gerald Brouder said, “This is an historic occasion for Columbia College... the generosity of Mr. Morris will have a tremendous and positive impact far into the future."
Morris first thanked his wife, Catherine, for putting up with him for 60 years — "She's 50 percent of this ceremony," he joked.
On a more serious note, he said he was delighted to help Columbia College in its educational mission. "Education is one thing that can't be taken away ... it's nothing but a pure honor to be part of your family. God bless Columbia College and its future," he said.
Edward "Buz" Harvey, Rolla instructor of business communications, said that these are tough times for everyone, sometimes "made tougher for those who don't understand." He then quoted John F. Kennedy, "Society needs people who can compromise effectively for the public good, but these must be compromises of issues, not principles."
Dr. Greg Stratman, director of the Rolla campus, also thanked Morris for the gift, saying Rolla area students and faculty will now have a true campus. “It will allow us to expand our programs and implement plans for the future that until now have just been dreams.”
Morris’ gift is the second largest in Columbia College history from a living donor and the largest gift given to a Columbia College Nationwide Campus.
Morris came from a humble background. His parents were cotton farmers in southeast Missouri, and he once shined shoes for 15 cents to help the family survive. He went on to found the Morris Oil Company, Signature Bank, Morris Group Hotels, built the Dick Clark American Bandstand Theater and entertainment complex in Branson, Mo., and Chevrolet and boat dealerships. He also purchased more than 2,500 acres around his hometown to raise peaches, rice and cotton. Part of this acreage is now a Missouri state park with a unique ecosystem in which orchids and other unusual plants thrive.
His philanthropic resume is extensive, with donations to the Boys & Girls Town of Missouri; Care to Learn Fund for Springfield Public Schools, co-founded with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie; a 1926 art deco theater in Springfield, the Gillioz; continuing education and athletic facilities for Missouri State University; fire departments, health centers and much more.