The Waco Tribune-Herald: Baylor benefactor Umphrey makes large gift for stadium

May 18, 2012

Article reprinted with the permission of the Waco Tribune-Herald

May 18, 2012

Beaumont attorney and Baylor Law School graduate Walter Umphrey and his wife, Sheila, have made a major gift toward building Baylor University's proposed on-campus stadium, the university announced Thursday.

The Umphreys' contribution marks the third major gift to the stadium project in two months.

Business magnate and former Baylor regent Drayton McLane Jr. and his family provided the lead gift to the project in March, a contribution university officials named the highest capital gift in school history.

Last week, Houston attorney John Eddie Williams, a former Baylor football player, and his wife, Sheridan, gave a gift for the project university officials said ranked in the top five capital contributions for the school. The new football field at Baylor Stadium will be named the John Eddie Williams Field.

The Umphreys' gift will help cover construction of a bridge that will connect the Baylor campus to the new stadium, which will be built on the opposite side of the Brazos River from Baylor's campus. The bridge will bear the couple's name.

The Umphreys previously donated $10 million as part of a $20 million gift in 1998 to build the Baylor Law School, which is named the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center.

"I've been very, very fortunate, and it's an opportunity to say thank you," said Umphrey, 76, who declined to disclose how much he gave to the project.

"It's already a tremendous school, and the (success of the) athletic program has been unprecedented the last couple of years. I'm not even a Baptist, but I'm a great fan of Baylor."

Though the Umphreys would not disclose the amount, Baylor officials say their most recent gift ranks among the top 10 capital contributions in school history and top five to the athletics program.

Baylor Athletic Director Ian McCaw said the university has a menu of sorts listing stadium features with naming opportunities at different gift levels. For example, three of the six available founders suites already have been reserved for $10 million each.

The new stadium is to be built for an estimated cost of $250 million.

McCaw said the university mainly has focused on reaching out to alumni and previous donors with strong ties to Baylor to cultivate larger gifts for the stadium. A website that would allow donors to make smaller gifts is expected to come online in the coming weeks, he said.

"This really suits (the Umphreys) well," McCaw said. "They're big football fans, and they love Baylor, and they really have a passion for this project. We're grateful for their generosity to the university and to this project."

Baylor alumni

Walter Umphrey, senior managing partner of the Provost Umphrey Law Firm, received his bachelor's in business administration degree from Baylor in 1959, and later earned his law degree from Baylor Law School in 1965.

He was the lead attorney in the five-member legal team that secured the historic $17.3 billion settlement from the tobacco industry for Texas residents in 1998.

Umphrey said Williams told him about his plans to donate to the stadium effort ahead of last week's announcement, and he "knew the phone would start ringing" from Baylor.

But Umphrey said was happy to do his part to support the project.

"It'll be a major attraction for recruiting," Umphrey said. "It just gives the warmth of a university and camaraderie, having a stadium on campus."

McCaw said the early success raising funds for Baylor Stadium is encouraging, but noted the challenge is far from met.

"We feel like we have a great deal of fundraising momentum and support behind the project at this point, and we're indebted to our top donors who have participated in the project," McCaw said. "I think we're making great progress, but this is an approximately $250 million endeavor, so we still have a long way to go."

The university plans to open the stadium for the 2014 season. McCaw said the board of regents has to approve the official timeline for construction and give the green light to break ground on the project.

University officials hope to make a pitch to the regents at the board's next meeting in July, McCaw said.