Landmark gifts shaped by roots, relationships

February 14, 2014 | Ron Hadfield

It’s Valentine’s Day 2014 on the Hill, where some selfless people are putting their money where their hearts are.

In all the excitement of today’s announcement of the largest single gift ($30 million) and largest collection of gifts ($55 million) ever made at one time in Abilene Christian University’s history, we should not lose sight of the people and relationships behind this remarkable news. Their roots run several generations deep at ACU, and in the case of the Anthony and Onstead families, with each other.

Kathy (Gay ’78) and David D. Halbert (’78) of Colleyville, Texas, are clear about the inspiration for their $15 million commitment to build theHalbert-Walling Research Center: the late Dean Walling and his wife, Thelma.

David’s grandfather was known as “Mr. Integrity,” a giant among those who led ACU’s sprawling Design for Development fundraising campaign more than 50 years ago. Dean Walling was the founding chair of the National Development Council and a trustee from 1976-83. He used his considerable influence to secure major gifts from donors who made it possible for iconic buildings such as Moody Coliseum, Brown Library, McGlothlin Campus Center, Walling Lecture Hall and the Don H. Morris Center rise from the red West Texas soil, helping turn a college into a university.  David’s mother was the late Jo Ann (Walling ’54) Halbert, namesake of ACU’s Halbert Institute for Missions, and his father, David Halbert, M.D. (’54), is an Abilene physician. Kathy and David met while taking classes in the College of Business Administration.

Walling led one of the world’s largest geophysical exploration companies and considered himself a scientist. He mentored young David, whose successful career has largely been in the health care field. David’s company, Caris Life Sciences, and his and Kathy’s Caris Foundation, work together to bring health and hope to people around the world. The couple sees potential synergy between their aspirations and the work their alma mater does to prepare students for graduate school and careers in science and health professions.

April (Bullock ’89) Anthony remembers sneaking with friends into the Onstead-Packer Biblical Studies Building being constructed on campus while she was a senior, never imagining her success in business would allow her 25 years later to enable other major facilities to transform the campus she loves. She met former Wildcat golfer Mark Anthony (’86) on a blind date negotiated by her late father, Joe Bullock. The couple married in 1991, and today, their $30 million commitment allows ACU to plan for significant science and athletics facilities, and benefit the College of Business Administration (COBA) where they, like the Halberts, both once studied.

An ACU trustee, April is CEO of Encompass Home Health and Homecare Homebase, both of which she founded. Mark Anthony is senior vice president for sales and marketing of Homecare Homebase, and is a founding board member of the Encompass Cares Foundation, which supports worldwide medical mission efforts.

Kay Onstead saw April the day she was born, having been present in the hospital waiting room when Joe and Jo Lynn Bullock’s daughter arrived in 1967. When April and Mark marrried, they entered a circle of friends that included Mark’s parents, Jim and Jane Anthony, and the Onsteads. Kay’s late husband, Robert, was a legendary Houston and Dallas businessman, respected community leader, church elder and devoted father. His and Kay’s leadership – and leadership gifts – have helped build Teague Special Events Center, Hunter Welcome Center Money Student Recreation and Wellness Center, and scholarship and faculty endowments in the College of Biblical Studies and the College of Business Administration.

Five million dollars of Mark and April’s $30 million gift benefits the Robert R. Onstead Center for Science and Humanities, to which Kay is contributing an additional $10 million. The Anthonys’ generosity also includes $15 million for Wildcat Stadium, ACU’s first on-campus football game venue since A.B. Morris Stadium in the 1950s. Mark and April are providing another $7 million for COBA and $3 million in undesignated funds.

The numbers are remarkable and unprecedented in their scope. The construction projects will build three science facilities and two on-campus stadiums while changing the north and south ends of campus in ways that will energize students, faculty, staff and alumni; attract new students and other visitors; build community; and hopefully, inspire others to similar philanthropy. It’s the start of a new day at ACU, with cheers raining down in Moody Coliseum this morning at the news.

“From my perspective, it started with one man, Dean Walling. And that one man passed it on to his daughter, who passed it on to my family, and I think that defines ACU,” said David Halbert. “That’s why you have so many families who have had three, four, five generations that have attended the university with the hope and belief they could support one another, lift up one another, so they can pass it on to the next generation. That’s what I’m hoping to be a part of.”

“We got to the place where we are today as a university because of generation after generation who supported the consistent mission of ACU,” said April Anthony. “We’re excited to be part of that next generation of giving back to an ACU, to a university that gave so much to us.”

Twenty million dollars remains to be raised on the $75 million “Vision in Action” initiative but three families have stepped forward in a big way. That’s how colleges become universities, and for generations, how this one A.B. Barret founded in 1906 has grown in size, reputation and influence.