Story by Luke Blount
Over the course of its history in Waco, Texas, Baylor University has gained a reputation as existing within its own social, political, and economic world known as the “Baylor bubble.”
At times it can seem that the relationship between Waco citizens and Baylor has been a coexistence, rather than a partnership. However, since 1959, there has been at least one thread that has continued to strengthen the bond between the city and the school in that bubble: the Baylor/Waco Foundation. Their little-known legacy is as impressive as it is important as a playbook for future collaboration.
In the late 1950s, a convergence of shared goals and incentives led to the creation of the Baylor/Waco Foundation, an organization formed by Waco business leaders who aimed to jumpstart the development of Baylor in order to grow the Waco economy.
Their first goal was simple, yet monumental from a historical perspective. The group planned to coordinate with the city of Waco to purchase large swaths of residential land northeast of 5th street and donate it to Baylor. Thanks to a federally incentivized program, the city of Waco had the ability to purchase the lower income residential neighborhoods between Baylor campus and the Brazos River through the Urban Renewal Agency.
“Gone will be the dreary rows of unpainted, substandard houses, which made the area a blight upon the city of Waco,” read one 1961 Waco Tribune-Herald article describing the effort. “Where many squalid dwellings once stood as an eye-sore, there will be clusters of gleaming, efficient new buildings in a vast modern educational complex.”
As the city of Waco purchased the property and relocated entire neighborhoods of people, local business leaders gathered together through the Baylor/Waco Foundation with a goal to raise more than $100,000 per year to purchase the property from the city, a sum equivalent to more than $800,000 per year today. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, hundreds of volunteers and some of the biggest names in the Waco business scene worked together to raise the necessary funding to purchase the property.
According to a Waco News-Tribune article from 1963, more than 300 people attended a luncheon and 175 workers volunteered to call and visit potential contributors to the campaign. By 1966, the group’s efforts were coming to fruition. An ad in the News-Tribune read: “If you happen to want evidence that Waco is a progressive city of enlightened people, take a look just east of Third Street on the Baylor Campus. You’ll find your proof.”
The final results of the campaign are remarkable. More than 200 acres of land were donated to Baylor University from the Baylor/Waco Foundation. Today, this land is home to the Ferrell Center, Baylor Ballpark, Baylor Marina, the Baylor Sciences Building, the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center, Marrs McLean Science Building, Moody Memorial Library, and at least 25 other buildings.
Thanks to the early work of the Baylor/Waco Foundation, Waco citizens and businesses are responsible for approximately 20 percent of Baylor’s total current campus area. It is a truly extraordinary example of cooperation between the citizens of Waco and Baylor.
Extending the legacy
Since its initial successes, the Baylor/Waco Foundation has continued to fund projects that benefit both the university and the citizens of Waco, including funding the development of Baylor Marina, paving the Ferrell Center parking lot and installing the first lights at Ferrell Field so that Waco citizens would be able to enjoy a baseball game after work. The goal has always remained focused on funding projects that benefit both Waco and Baylor.
The more recent projects are slightly more modest, although still important. Among many other things, the foundation funded the walkways at the Waco Mammoth site, donated to exhibits at the Mayborn Museum and created an endowed scholarship fund to support one Waco-area high school graduate each year. The endowment is now over $100,000 and the most recent recipient received $5,700.
“We love Baylor, and we love Waco,” said Dan Ingham, current Baylor/Waco Foundation president.
Ingham is a vice president of a local bank and also serves as the radio voice for Baylor softball and a cohost for Baylor Gameday on Waco’s KWTX TV station. “I’ve lived in Waco for 15 years, and I’ve seen that spirit of cooperation grow. It is fun to be a part of that now, too.” As an Oklahoma State University graduate, Ingham represents a particularly special group of advocates that recognize the importance of a synergistic partnership between Baylor and Waco.
“I’m proud of getting a group of folks together to raise money that aren’t necessarily in the same line of business,” Ingham said. “The last two presidents were not even Baylor grads, but they care enough about Baylor and Waco that they wanted to do something.”
Today, the foundation is no longer supported by hundreds of volunteers as it was in the 1960s, but it still consists of a core group of business leaders who choose and oversee the implementation of projects. At some point in the group’s history, Baylor took on a more active role in cultivating the foundation and organizing its meetings and events. But over the past year, Baylor has transitioned away from a more direct role, giving the organization an opportunity to get back to their roots as a more independent organization.
“Everything that we do, we are trying to emphasize the unity of Baylor University and Waco, Texas,” said Carroll Fitzgerald (’76), a Waco business owner and former Baylor/Waco Foundation president. Fitzgerald has been involved with the foundation since the early 1990s and seen the foundation and the university change significantly over the years.
“When I served the first time, the funds that we raised were significant, but today they are very insignificant because of the nature of the fundraising that Baylor does and the projects they do,” Fitzgerald said. “When you raise $100,000 per year, it is hard to compete with a project that raises $100 million for the business school or $260 million for the stadium … We have to really specialize and find something that is really needed.”
In Fitzgerald’s most recent turn as president, he oversaw a multi-year commitment to contribute $250,000 to Baylor athletics for infrastructure needs as well as contributions to the Doris Miller Memorial and the Baylor Autism Resource Clinic. The choice of projects is facilitated by word of mouth, grant applications and a continued collaboration with Baylor to discover needed projects.
The foundation relies on several regular donors in addition to hosting occasional fundraisers, including a Dr Pepper Hour for Waco business leaders.
“I donate to show my support for what the foundation is trying to accomplish,” said Earl Patrick (’66), a long-time donor both individually and professionally as the president of Coldwell Bank Jim Stewart Realtors. “If it is something worth doing as a business, then it is worth doing as an individual, and the Baylor/Waco Foundation is working on projects that wouldn’t get done otherwise.”
When there is the right convergence of factors and the necessary foresight, then there are opportunities for Waco and Baylor leaders to circumvent the Baylor bubble and work cooperatively for mutually beneficial initiatives with a lasting impact. Although it will be hard to top their founders’ efforts from 60 years ago, the Baylor/Waco Foundation aims to be the navigators for those special projects as they deliver a familiar message.
“Whatever is good for Waco is good for Baylor, and whatever is good for Baylor is good for Waco,” Fitzgerald said. “It is a pretty easy sales pitch once you get in front of the right person.”