By Tina H. Hahn
University of Mississippi
The University of Mississippi will formally dedicate the new name of the Ole Miss Student Union on Friday (Aug. 26), paying tribute to late Gertrude C. Ford and her foundation that continues to have a transformative impact on the Oxford and Medical Center campuses.
The public is invited to the 10 a.m. ceremony on the second floor of The Gertrude C. Ford Ole Miss Student Union near the Grove entrance. A dinner that evening will be hosted by the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts to present the inaugural Concerto Awards to the Ford Foundation and Chancellor Emeritus Robert C. Khayat.
Those speaking at the dedication include Chancellor Glenn Boyce; Stephen Sims, of Jackson, president of the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation; and Bradley Baker, Student Union director.
“The naming of The Gertrude C. Ford Ole Miss Student Union honors the incredible generosity of the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation, which has provided significant investments in many important projects on our main and Medical Center campuses,” Boyce said. “The Ford Foundation board members have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to helping meet the needs of our university, with the overarching mission of making a meaningful impact throughout our state, region and far beyond.
“We look forward to honoring the Ford Foundation board members to thank them publicly for their enduring support, which now totals more than $67.8 million.”
In 2015, the university began a major renovation and expansion of the Ole Miss Student Union – built in the mid-1970s – which opened with the 2019 fall semester. The project added more than 173,000 square feet, including an 8,000-square-foot ballroom.
Larger lobbies and dining spaces, as well as increased conference meeting spaces, were needed to better serve the growing student population with a more modern and engaging hub of student life.
“The Student Union is the center of campus, so I think this naming is fantastic,” Sims said. “Students are in it all the time, and the ballroom is impressive. It’s so much more than anything we’ve ever had before.
“I’m extremely pleased it’s being named for Mrs. Ford, who valued anything that helped education and young people.”
The Concerto Awards come during the Ford Center’s 20th anniversary year to thank individuals who have supported the center from the beginning with their “guidance, energy and treasure” to assure that its mission to serve the university and the community at large is maintained, said Julia Aubrey, Ford Center executive director. Pianist Bruce Levingston, the chancellor’s artist-in-residence of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, will perform at the recognition dinner.
“First there is a vision, then one must have the means to bring that vision into existence,” Aubrey said. “That is where the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation enters the picture.
“This performing arts center was the first project funded by the Ford Foundation when it was established in 1998. Since its inception, the Ford Foundation has donated over $100 million to a large and diverse number of organizations in the state. More than half of that total has been gifted to our university for the performing arts center, our new STEM facility, the Student Union and much more. Gertrude C. Ford’s name and legacy is well-represented on this campus.”
It was Khayat’s vision to build a performing arts facility on the Oxford campus, and thus he also will receive a Concerto Award.
“His commitment has extended beyond his time as chancellor, as he remains a dedicated advocate for the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts,” Aubrey said. “Robert was instrumental in fundraising for our first capital campaign in 2018 and has encouraged alumni and friends to provide gifts to continue our mission.
“Most recently he secured a $200,000 gift from Diane and J.L. Holloway to renovate our green room and star dressing rooms. Robert gets people involved!”
The Ford Foundation’s investments have strengthened the university in numerous areas.
Its $2.5 million gift to the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi pushed the effort over its $100 million goal to $101.5 million. The philanthropic drive helped pay for a multistory expansion of the state’s only children’s hospital that doubled the square footage devoted to pediatric care at the UM Medical Center.
The Ford Foundation committed $25 million to the Jim and Thomas Duff Center for Science and Technology Innovation, a science, technology, engineering and mathematics academic building under construction in the Science District.
Ford Way, a major artery running through the Science District between University Avenue and All-American Drive, will be named for the Ford Foundation. In addition to being the location for the STEM building, it will be the site of an area honoring Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner and the activities he performed in that part of campus.
This pathway will bring together science and Faulkner’s literary works in a way that honors their connection to the liberal arts.
The foundation has committed $200,000 to the Patterson School of Accountancy’s building fund, and the career center in the building will be named to honor the gift. The foundation also gave $400,000 to support the MPower Extended Orientation Program for incoming freshmen, which provides leadership development at the individual, team and community level.
The Ford Foundation contributed $25 million for the 88,000-square-foot Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, opened in 2002. Gifts to several other university initiatives, such as the Gertrude C. Ford Ballroom in The Inn at Ole Miss, the Daniel W. Jones, M.D. Chair for Faculty Support on the Oxford campus, the Suzan Thames Chair of Pediatrics and the MIND Center research clinic on the Medical Center campus, and land for Gertrude C. Ford Boulevard, providing a new north-south thoroughfare for the ever-growing Oxford-University community, have been made.