Since 1950, the Chapman Trusts have advanced The University of Tulsa with a steady flow of funding exceeding half a billion dollars. This support has subsidized everything from lampposts to cutting-edge nanotechnology research. Many times, it has erased vexing budget lines (e.g., asbestos removal). And just as many times, it has redrawn the future by shifting the playing field in TU's favor (e.g., the Wellspring Professorship endowments for up-and-coming faculty members).
Under the leadership of Chapman Trustee Sharon Bell (JD '85), who also is a member of the TU Board of Trustees, the Chapman Trusts delivered nearly a quarter of the Embrace the Future Campaign's remarkable total. The Trusts' giving to TU over the past six years exceeds that of its first four decades combined - a fact that does not surprise Bell.
"As I tell our partners at Bank of Oklahoma, our goal is to make sure the purchasing power of the support that our beneficiaries receive in 20 years is as good or better than what they're getting now," she said. (BOK is the corporate trustee of the Chapman Trusts, managing the investment side of the operation in consultation with Bell.)
Over the course of the Embrace the Future Campaign, Chapman purchasing power has extended to several key areas, including an extensive expansion and renovation of McFarlin Library (which Bell notes had become a "fairly dowdy old lady"); renovation of John Rogers Hall, home of the TU College of Law; endowment of the key administrative posts the Dean John Rogers Endowed Chair of the College of Law (held by Janet Levit) and R.M. and Ida McFarlin Dean of the Library (held by Adrian Alexander); a suite of Wellspring Professorships in fields including international business, Chinese language, nanotechnology, film studies, and biochemical engineering; and widespread support of the campus master plan, including a major gift to the Roxana Rózsa and Robert Eugene Lorton Performance Center.
Given the Chapman Trusts' singular position as a partner in TU's advancement, Bell's giving strategy encompasses the broadest possible scope - from gritty workaday projects to visionary program endowments that help shape the university's core strategies. Above all, Bell explains, she tries to be a catalyst linking the university's priorities to the generosity of other TU donors.
"For example, in the case of our gift to the Lorton Performance Center, it was at a key point in being able to move forward with the design details for the building," she said. "They needed to have a certain percentage of the funding raised to be able to do that. Once you have those details in hand, it becomes easier to enlist the help of others."
For Bell and her husband, Greg Gray (BS '76, JD '85), supporting TU goes far beyond smart business; it is a family calling rooted in genuine friendship. Bell notes that 15 members of their combined family are TU alumni - including her father, the late William H. Bell (JD '54), and, now, Sharon and Greg's son, John Gray (BA '10). "Greg's uncles, his cousins, my cousin and my brother - we all got great value from our TU experience," Bell said. "TU provided a good education and a good foundation for our lives. And we want to make sure that continues." (Son John has wasted no time in becoming a TU donor; he established a life-insurance-based endowment gift through the university's Pioneer Program.)
The Trusts themselves trace back to the incredible success that James Chapman and Robert McFarlin built during the early years of the 20th century as principals in the McMan Oil Company, which sold in 1916 for $39 million ($780 million today). That wealth became the source of vast philanthropy, including the Chapman Trusts. Attorney John Rogers served for many years as counsel to the Chapman-McFarlin interests before passing the role to his law partner, Sharon's father, William H. Bell. Today, Sharon continues as caretaker of the trusts, which support TU and 17 other beneficiaries.
Legacy stories of the Chapman and McFarlin families are recounted each spring, as TU's 28 Chapman-endowed faculty convene to hear about the namesakes of their titled chairs and to share their own projects. The luncheons, which always feature an heirloom family recipe such as pepper jelly or icebox pudding, are one of Bell's favorite annual activities, she says, because they celebrate TU's mission in terms of individual people, their passions and personalities, and their work - the substance of the university as it is lived day to day.
Although she represents TU's single largest investor, Bell is quick to deflect credit to the thousands of other donors who stepped forward to support the Embrace the Future Campaign. "What I find so exciting is how incredibly successful the campaign has been as a whole. It has moved the institution forward in so many areas," she said. "It's not just the work of the Chapman Trusts; it's the work of a great many people who have given - with love and with blood, sweat and tears. I celebrate every one of those gifts and am delighted to be a part of the process."