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Nov. 15, 2012 Volume 34, No. 13

Record endowment means permanent funding for journalism institute

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BIG MOMENT Roger Gafke, director of program development at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, was one of several who spoke Nov. 8 about Donald W. Reynolds’ monetary gifts to the University of Missouri. Photo by Nicholas Benner


Endowment is the latest gift to MU from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation

When Donald W. Reynolds attended the ribbon cutting of the MU alumni center — which was named in his honor and for which he had donated $8.4 million to build — he struggled to stand from his wheelchair and sing along to “Old Missouri,” Mizzou’s Alma Mater.  

During the song at the 1992 dedication, tears rolled down Reynolds’ face, remembered Roger Gafke in a phone interview. He was vice chancellor for Development, University and Alumni Relations at the time. Reynolds died months later at the age of 88. 

On Nov. 8, Gafke stood in the Reynolds Journalism Institute at a different ceremony. Officials were announcing the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation’s $30.1 million endowment gift to Mizzou — the largest of its kind in MU history. Gafke couldn’t stop thinking back to the dedication 20 years ago.

“I thought about how much satisfaction he would have gotten out of this, too,” said Gafke, now director of program development at the journalism institute. “We’re going to have the intellectual energy of faculty and students inventing new stuff and finding new ways to help citizens carry out their responsibilities in our democracy.”

The $30.1 million endowment will provide operating funds for the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI), enabling the institute to continue its mission of research and innovation in journalism on a permanent basis. 

“The best thing about that endowment is that it will provide the funding to make sure that there’s going to be an institution, a group of people who are going to be working to help journalism forever,” said Randy Picht, director of RJI. 

“It’ll help me and my colleagues here now, but 100 years from now, it’s still going to be here. There aren’t many things that provide that kind of permanence.” 

The foundation’s donation is the latest in a handful to the university that total more than $87.5 million. These include $31 million in 2004 to build RJI, and $15 million in 2009 to fund its operations through 2015. 

A main area of RJI research is its Reynolds Fellowship program, where each year up to six outside professionals come to the institute for eight months to test new ideas and strategies for media industries. The institute helped one such Reynolds Fellow, Michele McLellan, create the Local Independent Online News Publishers, a group of startup websites that area publishers have made profitable with solid advertising and business strategies, increased community engagement, and better journalism through new technologies. RJI also is home to the American Society of News Editors, which until this summer was based in Reston, Va.

The institute employs 23 full-time researchers, technicians and support personnel in its 50,000-square-foot facility, which includes laboratories, a television studio and the nations’ first university-based Microsoft application development lab.

Reynolds, BJ ’27, made his fortune in outdoor advertising and buying community newspapers in small communities. But all the while he had the heart of a philanthropist, said Joyce Lake, a former director of alumni programs for the Mizzou Alumni Association. 

Reynolds also loved a good party, said Lake, who helped lead the “Old Missouri” singalong at the Reynolds Alumni Center dedication.

In 1990, Lake and Guy “Bus” Entsminger, a longtime vice chancellor for Development and Alumni Relations, got a taste of Reynolds’ style when they attended the benefactor’s 85th birthday celebration in Hawaii. 

It was a multinight affair with enormous dinners, live entertainment and a luau party. “It was absolutely amazing,” Lake said. “There is no other way to describe it.”

At one point, Lake was sent to buy food and drinks for the night’s festivities and was told to buy anything she liked. 

“I spent about $500 at the grocery store,” she said. “I told him, ‘This is so wonderful. I got to go to the store and spend all your money.’ ” 

Reynolds just laughed, she said.

— Erik Potter