SPRINGDALE — Over his lifetime, Don Tyson quietly donated millions for scholarships, endowed chairs, research, athletics and buildings at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
The former leader of the world’s largest meat producer died Thursday at 80.
“He always had the University of Arkansas atheart,” former Razorbacks track Coach John McDonnell said.
Tyson was among the university’s top donors, Chancellor G. David Gearhart said.
He was instrumental in helping UA create a college track dynasty and build a nationally known poultry research program.
“We’d never won a championship on our own soil until Don Tyson came along,”McDonnell said.
While the Tyson influence is readily visible on campus, Don Tyson’s name in particular is decidedly absent.
The John W. Tyson Building honors Tyson’s father, who founded Tyson Foods Inc. The Randal Tyson Track Center and a memorial scholarship fund recognize Tyson’s brother. This year, his company and family donated money for theJean Tyson Child Development Center, to be named after his late wife.
Don Tyson never cared to be recognized, Gearhart said. In May, university officials had to talk him into accepting an honorary doctorate of humane letters degree.
“He really didn’t like to dwell on himself or his philanthropy,” the chancellor said. “He never liked any-thing named after himself.”
From 1998 to 2005, the university received $27 million in contributions from Tyson, his family, foundation and company, according to a 2005 UA press release.
Recipients of major donations included the Sigma Nu fraternity; the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History; the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences; and the UA System’s statewide Agriculture Division.
Tyson publicly added another $6.75 million over the next five years, but university officials agree that he likely donated more behind the scenes.
His donations helped hundreds of students attend the university, former UA Chancellor John White said.
Through donations, the university was able to create nine endowed chairs and other professorships that wouldn’t have been otherwise possible, UA spokesman Danielle Strickland said.
Any time the university asked for money, Tyson was there to support programs in practically every field of study, Gearhart said.
“He touched a lot of people’s lives,” said Brad Choate, vice chancellor of university advancement. “It’s been so significant.”
The donations had a major impact on poultry science research at the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences.
“Our poultry program isranked very high - one of the best in the nation - and there’s no question [the Tyson family] helped put it on the map,” Gearhart said.
Tyson attended UA in the early 1950s, leaving in 1952 to help his father run the family business.
Choate said Don Tyson donated as a way to improve the state. As Tyson saw it, improving UA meant improving agriculture, the labor force, his company and the community, Choate said.
“If you want to magnify helping people, higher education is a good way to do it,” Choate said.
Beyond money, Tyson donated his time. He and son John served on a steering committee to help raise money for the university. Inthe 2005 press release, university officials called the Tyson family “stalwart supporters.”
“They have been a real catalyst in building our university into a powerhouse institution,” Gearhart said. “We owe much of our success to their leadership.” Send your thoughts about Don Tyson to webreleases@arkansas online.com.