EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Three cheers for Phelps, et al.

If it takes a village – or a family – to raise a child, what does it take to raise a university?
Colorado State University president Al Yates has long promoted a partnership between the university and the business community, but few business leaders have responded in as dramatic a fashion as Joe Phelps.
Phelps, whose father founded Greeley-based Hensel Phelps Construction Co., has donated $500,000 to the university’s construction-management program. Moreover, Hensel Phelps and Phelps Tointon Inc. of Greeley have each donated $100,000.
Even larger gifts have been bestowed upon the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, where Richard and Chris Monfort have committed $5 million for program and faculty endowment, capital renovation, technology and support of current programs.
Each of these gifts demonstrates how business and business leaders can take the lead in ensuring the educational vitality of the region’s universities, even in the face of intense budgetary pressures.
So often, as businesses downsize or engage in controversial projects, the community and the press rightfully give prominence to those acts. Sometimes, however, less attention is paid to contributions made by the business community, either from their impact on the local economy or donations to local causes.
Phelps’ gift comes as the construction-management program, ranked as one of the top five such programs nationwide, celebrates its 50th anniversary. Phelps’ and the Hensel Phelps/Phelps-Tointon gifts serve as the centerpieces of CSU’s $1.5 million campaign to take the program into the 21st century.
Consider: Almost half of the total fund-raising campaign has been fulfilled by one man and the firms with which he has been aligned. It indicates several things, including that a man now focused on his $10.3 million Joseph Phelps Vineyards in California’s Napa Valley can still remember the university that did so much to help Hensel Phelps become one of the nation’s leading construction companies.
It also shows that companies that have partnered with the university over the years, indeed that have hired about 100 students from the program over the years, will invest the funds necessary to ensure the program’s continued success.
As for the Monfort gift, it accounts for 62 percent of the $8 million in donations recently announced by UNC and hints at the incredible impact that family has had and continues to have on the entire region.
This is university-business partnership at its finest, and it’s a partnership that is embraced by many Northern Front Range businesses as, through either enlightened self-interest or pure philanthropy, they donate sizable sums in support of the region’s universities or public-school systems.
It’s not only through donations, however, that business, university and community can foster cooperation. It’s only through the efforts of university, city and businesses, for example, that such dreams as affordable housing or a new performing-arts center will be fulfilled in Fort Collins.
This area has had and will continue to have conflicts between town and gown, with large populations of students and the community sometimes clashing. But through concerted efforts on all parts, the universities, civic leaders and local businesses can build a whole greater than the parts, a community in which the university is a proud and renowned focal point, in which citizens love to live and in which businesses can thrive.
Those such as Joe Phelps and the Monforts who embrace that concept lay the foundation for a wonderful place in which to live.Christopher Wood can be reached at (970) 221-5400, (970) 356-1683, (800) 440-4506 or via e-mail at ncbr@aol.com.