Dan Neal, BS ’74, JD ’77, has so much energy he seems to levitate rather than walk, and so much enthusiasm for his myriad projects, and for life in general, that he seems constantly in motion, even when sitting. He never finishes a project without already being into the next one; he’s always on the cusp of the next thing. He followed law school at the UO with a long legal career—among other things, he managed the City of Eugene’s public defender program for many years. A decade ago he turned his attention to developing apartment buildings to house UO students. On a drive through Eugene, you’ll find your eye drawn to his projects, which are not only architecturally distinctive, but were all built using sustainable building practices. And he plays as hard as he works. He has run both the New York and Boston marathons and has twice won the Butte to Butte race in his age group.
So it should come as no surprise that Neal is virtually a lifelong supporter of UO sports, beginning with contributions to the Duck Athletic Fund, the conduit for preferred seating and parking at games. And like hundreds or perhaps thousands of alumni, it was his postcollege connection to the UO through sports that ultimately led he and his wife Peggy to support nonathletic programs as well—in a big way. By the time the Neals were in a financial position to make a significant gift to the university, they were also ready to look at other university needs in addition to athletics. That led to a major contribution to the recently completed expansion and renovation of the Erb Memorial Union.
There is a perception among some alumni that donations to UO’s athletics department have come at the expense of giving to the nonathletic side of the university—that generosity to sports at the UO has eclipsed giving to academics, potentially even diminishing it. But statistics, and donors’ own stories, don’t bear that out. In fact, there have always been connections between athletics donors and academics donors—an alliance that is not always easy to see without looking at the numbers.
Although giving to UO’s successful athletics program is at an all-time high, it is nonetheless eclipsed by giving to nonathletics programs. And as development officers have long observed, giving to athletics is often a gateway to funding scholarships, faculty chairs, academic centers, new or remodeled buildings, and projects such as the EMU expansion that lie at the heart of the UO student experience.
Dave Petrone, BS ’66, MBA ’68, is another example of an alumnus whose journey of philanthropy toward the UO began with his dedication to the Ducks. Long-time residents of Palo Alto, California, Dave and his wife, Nancy, were and still are regular fixtures at home Ducks games. For years, they regularly made modest contributions to the UO Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. But that sports-fostered connection to his alma mater led Dave and Nancy to meet and get acquainted with UO administrators and, ultimately, faculty members who in turn acquainted the couple with needs on, as the saying goes, “the other side of the river.” The result: in addition to generously supporting UO athletics—including making the founding gift to create UO’s landmark Women in Flight program—the Petrones have generously donated to many different academic programs across campus. The Charles H. Lundquist College of Business. Journalism. Law. The library. The art museum and the natural and cultural history museum. And more.
“The more we went around the university and started talking to people, the more we started giving to academics,” Petrone says. He fondly recalls meeting and talking with now-professor emeritus Gary Klug about the environmental chamber he and his colleagues in the Department of Human Physiology hoped to someday acquire to help them better understand the body’s reaction to extreme conditions and to seek new treatments for sleep apnea, altitude sickness, high blood pressure, and other conditions. Before meeting Klug, the Petrones didn’t know much about physiology. But they found Klug’s passion for his work infectious—and inspiring. Needless to say, Klug got his environmental chamber.
“The more you see of the whole university,” Petrone said, “the more you want to make it better.”
It’s human nature: by becoming a college sports powerhouse, UO is in the news—and in the public consciousness—more. People like to support success, and UO’s successful athletes and teams have helped generate more attention and, in turn, more support for its academic programs as well. In fiscal year 2016 alone, donors tagged more than 80 percent, or about $162 million, for academics. For the current $2 billion campaign, donors have designated more than 62 percent of the total raised to date for academic purposes. New and remodeled sports facilities get a lot of attention. Meanwhile—off many people’s radar—over the past four years donors have given nearly twice as much to support construction and remodeling of academic buildings and other nonathletics capital improvements.
Even UO president Michael Schill—who admits to having had little experience with sports before coming to the UO—has come to appreciate the value of athletics and the important role athletics donors provide to the university as a whole.
“Athletic competition is part of being a Division I university and is woven into our identity, heritage, and history,” he wrote in a recent letter to the UO community. Rather than asking donors to give less to athletics, he wrote, he is encouraging donors to “dig deeper to support our academic program, too,” to “cultivate our research and academic enterprise with the same focus and in the same strategic way as we have for athletics.”
“It is time to move the conversation away from bringing athletics down and instead set our sights on lifting the UO’s academic reputation up,” he continues. “We can have both world-renowned academics and dominant athletics teams and student athletes.”
The Neals are quite unapologetic about their contributions to athletics, pointing out that the UO Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is among the few such programs nationwide that is entirely self-supporting (it actually generates enough money to fund all 21 sports at UO).
“We can’t expect Phil Knight to do everything!” says Dan with his trademark grin, conjuring the Nike founder well known for his unmatched support of UO athletics facilities. Knight is perhaps not as widely recognized for the vast support he and his wife, Penny, have given to academics, including buildings, endowed faculty chairs, and scholarships.
“I think it does a disservice to donors who are passionate about contributing to athletics to say that’s all they care about,” Neal continued. “I think they recognize that our broader university has been extremely well served by the success of our high-profile sports programs. They feed off of each other.
“I’m very lucky to have gone to the UO as an undergraduate and for law school,” Neal says. “My objective is to achieve a balance between the contributions on the academic side and the athletic side. I hope that by donating I might set a good example and inspire—or cajole”—again, that grin—“other alumni who have benefited from their education here,” he says.
“Think about what the university has done for the course of the lives of the graduates—for me, it’s been huge. I expect to support the university to the end of my life—and beyond.”
—Bonnie Henderson, BA ’79, MA ’85