Belmont University announced today the receipt of more than $10 million from the estate of the late Ed and Bernice Johnson, long-time friends of the university.
For 16 years, Ed and Bernice Johnson ran a neighborhood gas station on Belmont Boulevard. During the Depression, the couple often helped Herman Lay keep his potato chip trucks on the road by allowing him to pay on credit. In 1948, Lay offered the Johnsons a chance to buy stock in his company. The couple’s initial investment of $8,000 grew exponentially with the company, which is now part of Frito-Lay and Pepsi-Co Inc. Following Bernice Johnson’s death in January 1998 (her husband died in 1994), $8 million from the Johnson estate was given to Belmont and directed toward scholarships in the College of Business Administration, primarily for accounting students. Additional funds from the Johnson estate were placed in a 10-year charitable remainder annuity trust, and those accumulated monies, $10 million, are now being released to Belmont, making the couple’s total bequest to the university equal more than $18 million. This represents one of the largest gifts in the history of Belmont University.
Belmont President Dr. Bob Fisher said, “It should come as no surprise to anyone to discover the generosity of the late Ed and Bernice Johnson, a couple who believed in and supported a friend even in difficult financial times. Their remarkable philanthropic spirit will now benefit a new generation of students and future leaders. Belmont University is very grateful for this gift and extremely proud to be associated with such a dynamic legacy.”
The $10 million from the trust will be directed into the general university endowment. The original $8 million donation was placed in the Lawrence Glover Scholarship Fund, which honors retired Belmont accounting professor Lawrence Glover, who once served as the Johnsons’ accountant and first recommended Belmont as a worthy investment.
In 2004, Belmont honored Ed and Bernice Johnson with the unveiling of an original statue by Nashville sculptor Russ Faxon, which now graces the plaza on the Belmont Boulevard side of the campus adjacent to the fountain in front of the entrance to the Maddox Grand Atrium. The site is directly across the street from the Circle K convenience store, which sits on the site of a previous Esso gas station that was owned by the Johnsons. The statue portrays the Johnsons waving goodbye to a student.
Belmont University is currently constructing a 350-seat proscenium theatre, black box theatre and scene shop in the former sanctuary of Belmont Heights Baptist Church to provide new venues for the Department of Theatre and Dance. Along with providing valuable new performance and teaching space for Belmont’s theatre and dance students, the new theatre complex will allow Belmont to maintain and strengthen collaborations with local professional arts organizations.
The new 350-seat proscenium theatre will be equipped with state-of-the-art lighting and audio equipment and will serve as a performance and teaching facility. The black box theatre will be able to accommodate audiences from 100 to 150 and allow students to explore a variety of types of theatre performances.
“This new theatre complex will not only provide a beautiful space for student performances, but provides additional partnership opportunities between Belmont and some of the area’s most respected arts organizations,” Dr. Robert Fisher, Belmont University president, said. “These collaborative efforts will enhance students’ learning experiences by allowing them to work with professionals in their desired fields.”
The Department of Theatre and Dance currently resides in the Belmont Little Theatre, a makeshift performance space housed in Hail Hall, the oldest residence hall at Belmont. While the Little Theatre provides an intimate setting for theatre productions, it also presents certain challenges – the types of plays available to students are limited, dance students must utilize the Massey Performing Arts Center – a concert hall more conducive for musical performances than dance – and minimal teaching space for students interested in set design, costume construction, lighting and sound. The new theatre complex will better accommodate the talents of Belmont’s theatre and dance students.
The university is enthusiastic about the inaugural season representing a year of collaborations. With the creation of two new venues, Belmont is developing even stronger relationships with professional arts organizations in Nashville including: Actors Bridge Ensemble, Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Nashville Children’s Theatre, Nashville Opera, Nashville Ballet and Rejoice! Ministries. Actors Bridge Ensemble began on Belmont’s campus 10 years ago and its artistic director serves on Belmont’s faculty in the Department of Theatre and Dance. The university recently collaborated with Nashville Shakespeare Festival on a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and looks forward to furthering this partnership by providing more opportunities for productions. The new theatre complex will serve as the temporary home for Nashville Children’s Theatre in their 2007-08 season while their venue undergoes renovations. Nashville Ballet will continue to collaborate with the dance program on its annual spring production. A student is participating in an internship at Rejoice! Ministries, a dance studio in East Nashville for underprivileged children in the area, and Belmont is exploring various collaborative opportunities with the dance program. In addition, the university is also collaborating with Father Ryan High School for the inaugural season and will be collaborating with a different high school each year.
The Belmont theatre complex is scheduled for completion in September 2007. A reception to celebrate this new venture at Belmont will be held at the construction site at 2100 Belmont Boulevard Thurs., November 9 at 9:30 a.m.
Pictured above: Belmont theatre students perform a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the construction site of the new theatre complex.
“Belmont excited about new theater complex” – The Tennessean, November 22, 2006
(pictured left – Mike Ward, Director of Programs for the Maddox Foundation, joins Belmont president Bob Fisher and Belmont Presidential Scholar recipients at a reception held on Belmont’s Campus.)
Nashville, Tenn., October 11, 2006 – The Maddox Foundation, founded by the late Dan and Margaret Maddox, continues its generous support of Belmont University. The Maddox Foundation’s most recent gift to Belmont continues to fund the university’s Presidential Scholars Program. The scholars program supports up to four incoming freshmen to receive full scholarships for four years at Belmont. The scholarships cover tuition, fees, books and room and board — a value of more than $80,000. In order to be considered for the Presidential Scholarship, the student must have: An ACT score of 29 or above or SAT score of 1320 or above; a high school grade-point average of 3.5 or above; and been actively involved in school, community and church.
“Belmont is my dream school and the Maddox Foundation enabled me to be here,” said Nathan Davis, a junior honors major and Presidential Scholar recipient. “In addition to the financial support, the Maddox Foundation has enabled me to grow as a person and be a contributing member of the world by serving others.”
The Maddox Foundation also pledged a total of $5.5 million to build the Maddox Grand Atrium on Belmont’s campus. The Maddox Grand Atrium, completed in 2003, connects the Beaman Student Life Center and the Curb Event Center and is used for receptions, dinners and concerts.
“Belmont University has had no better friends than Dan and Margaret Maddox,” Belmont president Bob Fisher said. “They would be so proud of the students that are benefiting from the Presidential Scholars program as well as the beauty and the benefits provided by the Maddox Grand Atrium.”
The Maddox Foundation supports the generosity of Dan and Margaret Maddox, who died in a tragic boating accident in 1998. Mr. Maddox established himself in the world of finance, oil and gas exploration and real estate development. Mrs. Maddox shared with her husband a highly respected reputation in business and in community leadership. Maddox Hall, a residence hall for men at Belmont, is also named in honor of Dan and Margaret Maddox.
Today’s Tennessean newspaper reports: Belmont teamed up with two local songwriter groups – the Nashville Songwriters Foundation and the Nashville Songwriters Association International – yesterday to announce that they would begin working together to develop an accredited undergraduate songwriting degree program and to establish a Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame on or near the university’s campus. … If the partnership leads to a full-fledged songwriting major, it would be one of the few such degree programs in the country. – Read the whole story on page one of today’s Tennessean, or online here. Also, see the press release.
Belmont University and two songwriters organizations based in Nashville announced today they will work together on a partnership that could lead to a songwriting major at the university and a presence on or near the Belmont campus for the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.