Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2008-10-28

Samford University recognized its top donors, announced a major gift that will put a name on its new football field house and honored three alumni of the year during a 2008 Homecoming gala banquet held at the Pete Hanna Center on Friday, Oct. 24.

Guests of honor included individual donors and representatives of foundations and corporations that have provided significant financial support to the university during the last year.

Samford president Andrew Westmoreland announced that the Cooney Family Field House was made possible with a lead gift from Birmingham business executive and Samford graduate Gary Cooney.

"It is especially fitting that we can make this announcement on Homecoming weekend when we celebrate alumni and when we are recognizing the 1971 national championship football team on which Gary played," said Dr. Westmoreland.

In addition, the president also announced that Cooney has offered an additional $1 million challenge gift designed to inspire others to give $2 million for scholarships that will underscore the school's mission of developing mind and character. Another alumnus has already given $25,000 to fund the first challenge-match scholarship, Westmoreland said.

Cooney, a 1974 graduate, is vice chairman of McGriff, Seibels & Williams, Inc., one of the nation's leading insurance brokerage firms. He is a member of Samford's Board of Overseers and the Brock School of Business advisory board.

At Cooney's request, the building honors his entire family, including his parents, the late John and Patricia Cooney. Cooney's brother, John, graduated from Samford in 1971, and his nephew, Riley Barnacastle, currently plays for the Bulldogs.

Under construction in the south end zone area of Seibert Stadium, the building is scheduled for completion for use next season. "This new facility will enhance our already outstanding athletics facilities and provide state-of-the-art space for our football program," said Dr. Westmoreland.

The dinner also featured the presentation of alumni of the year honors to Bennie Bumpers of Birmingham, and Paula Smith Hovater and Rod Hovater of Roswell, Ga. Samford Alumni Association president Mark Davidson noted that all three honorees are former presidents of the Alumni Association, all are active with the Brock School of Business advisory board, and are all active recruiters for the university and gracious donors.

"But, most importantly, all represent their alma mater in everything that they do-fulfilling the Samford mission," said Davidson.

Bumpers, a 1963 graduate, retired in 2007 as vice president of risk management for Vulcan Materials Company.

Paula Hovater, a 1969 graduate, owns the successful Atlanta consulting firm, Public Affairs, which specializes in event planning and promotion.

Rod Hovater, a 1967 graduate, is client manager for Compuware, a Fortune 1000 mainframe and distribution software company.

Donors were recognized in Samford's highest giving categories: the Harwell G. Davis, A.P. Montague, Lovelace-Wilkerson and Samuel Sterling Sherman societies.

"Philanthropy is one of the cornerstones of Samford University," noted vice president for university relations Randy Pittman.

"This year about 30 percent of Samford's operations will be funded by private financial support and endowment earnings. At the heart of that philanthropy are those who give regularly…those whose support is annual," said Pittman, thanking the annual supporters as well as those who have qualified for membership in one of the four lifetime giving societies.

The Sherman Society is named for the college's first president, who dedicated himself to the institution when it had no funds, no students and only one building. It is the highest level of recognition for lifetime donors to Samford.

New members of the Sherman Society are Stanley M. (Skip) Brock, Pat M. Courington, Sr., and Dr. Marvin L. Mann.

Two new members were named to the Lovelace-Wilkerson Society: Mountain Brook Baptist Church, which was represented by senior minister Jim Moebes and his wife, Gail; and Vulcan Materials Company, represented by Wayne Houston and others.

The society is named for two trustees who saved the university from bankruptcy in the 1880s, J.B. Lovelace and W.W. Wilkerson.

A.P. Montague was president of the school from 1902-1912. New members of the Montague Society are Mr. and Mrs. Harry B. (Buck) Brock III, the Coca-Cola Company, James B. Price and Mr. and Mrs. James C. Stivender, Jr.

The Harwell G. Davis Society is named for the president who led the college during one of the most critical periods in its history---through the aftermath of the Great Depression, World War II and the relocation from East Lake to Shades Valley in the 1950s.

New Davis Society members are Alabama Gas Corporation, Mr. and Mrs. S. Truett Cathy, Dr. Chella Courington, Mr. and Mrs. Michael P. Dunn, Mrs. Xanthi H. and Peter M. Grammas, Lexmark International, Robins & Morton, the Shelby County Commission and Mrs. Magdalene W. Thomas.

Guests enjoyed lively banquet-ending music by the Samford Marching Band. Each guest received a box of note cards that had been designed by young artists who attend Samford's Children's Learning Center, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.