Life Remembered: Philanthropist Richmond gave millions to UI

Life Remembered: Philanthropist Richmond gave millions to UI

CHAMPAIGN -- He was the Jack Richmond you've heard mentioned on WILL radio and TV, the self-made philanthropist who endowed the University of Illinois' first real journalism teaching studio, the UI basketball coach's salary and other notable projects.

But he was also a former gymnast, weight lifter, artist's model, salesman, conservation specialist and, to his mother's chagrin, a bouncer, friends recalled Tuesday.

Mr. Richmond -- a businessman, who with his wife, Marjorie Richmond, donated $6 million to the UI -- died Sunday at the age of 93.

Despite his wealth, he was "totally down to earth and humble," said longtime friend William Sturtevant, senior principal gifts consultant for the UI Foundation.

Born in 1917, Mr. Richmond lived all his life in the same house on Church Street, one of Champaign's oldest.

Mr. Richmond's ancestors helped settle Champaign County, and he enjoyed a comfortable childhood. But the family lost all its farmland in the Great Depression, and Mr. Richmond vowed to make sure they never struggled again. In a 1996 interview with The News-Gazette, he recalled doing without such basics as electricity, water and phone service.

His parents, Mildred and Arthur Dean Richmond, sent him to the UI in the 1930s with orders to become a lawyer, rather than go into agriculture. But he was bored with commerce and prelaw. He switched to agriculture and eventually earned degrees in soil and dairy sciences.

He had to work his way through college. Among his jobs: meat truck driver, corn detasseler, wrecking crew member, night clerk, model for art students and highway construction.

An avid storyteller, he loved to tell how he ended up being a bouncer at the Old Crow Bar in Saugatuck, Mich.

His mother had sent him north for a summer job at a hotel in Saugatuck -- then a popular vacation spot for college students -- concerned he was "picking up bad habits" from the construction crews he was working with here, Sturtevant said.

In great shape from weight lifting, Mr. Richmond broke up a nasty fight one night and the hotel owner asked him to work as a bouncer, where he could earn more money. He liked to joke that "his mother's game plan didn't work too well," Sturtevant said.

Mr. Richmond boxed and competed on the UI gymnastics team until he cracked his sternum during a dismount from the flying rings and could no longer compete. He then started a weight-training program the first UI athlete to do so and earned money modeling for UI art classes.

After graduating in 1943 and completing a tour with the Army, he accepted a job with the new U.S. Soil Conservation Service doing soil mapping and working with farmers to prevent erosion around Lake Decatur. He also planted more than 26,000 pine and spruce trees on land he owned.

He later worked in Clark County, where he met Marjorie Laird, who would become his wife years later after they had both pursued successful careers and cared for aging parents. He saw her crossing the street -- they were each with other dates -- and invited her and her escort to join them for dinner. Their first date was on her 21st birthday. He took her to Terre Haute, Ind., and they played ping-pong.

"I was beating him, and he said, 'How'd you get so good,'" Marjorie Richmond recalled. "I said, 'Oh I used to be a ping-pong champion in high school.'"

A former UI gymnastics teammate recruited Mr. Richmond to sell Marchant Calculators, a new business tool, and he did quite well, winning various trips. On his first trip to Japan, he took his mother, who had passed up a trip around the world with her mother to care for him as a child, Marjorie Richmond said.

He stayed with Marchant, later acquired by Smith Corona, until 1972. He then made his fortune in the stock market, where he invested early with Cisco Systems and the biotechnology firm Genentech.

"He had a real knack for picking high-tech opportunities," Sturtevant said.

He and Marjorie married on Nov. 14, 1988, three months after his mother passed away.

"He was a sweetheart. I loved him dearly. He's just a wonderful, wonderful man, very compassionate," she said.

Family was everything to Mr. Richmond, but with no children of his own he chose the UI to carry on his family's name. The Richmonds donated $2 million to a television studio known as the Richmond Journalism Teaching Facility, and $1.5 million for the UI's Alumni Center in honor of his parents, Arthur Dean and Mildred Hummel Richmond. The first-floor reception area of the alumni center is named the Richmond Family Gallery.

An avid Illini booster and sports fan, he gave several million dollars to UI athletics over the years, including a $2 million endowment to support the men's basketball coach's salary and money for gymnastics scholarships.

His parents had contributed to the construction of Memorial Stadium, and he attended the dedication with them as a 7-year-old on Oct. 18, 1924, the day Harold "Red" Grange ran for five touchdowns against Michigan. He was hooked.

The donation for the TV studio was especially important to him because it was directly helping students, Marjorie Richmond said. He would often stay up until 10 p.m. to watch the credits aired on WILL thanking the Richmonds for their gift, she said.

"He was always keenly interested in what was going on over here," said Danda Beard of WILL.

Beyond campus, the Richmonds also donated $440,000 toward the restoration of Champaign County Courthouse clock tower, almost half the total.


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jeffh wrote on April 20, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Sounds like a truly nice man who will be missed very much. Rest In Peace.