October 29, 2004

Ground broken for academic and training center Wittmann's gift benefits SIUC and student-athletes

by Paula M. Davenport

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- In a show of Saluki spirit. Southern Illinois University Carbondale today (Oct. 29) broke ground for a sleek, rounded glass building sure to propel the physical and intellectual talents of its intercollegiate student-athletes.

The new 12,000-square foot, tri-level academic and training center will rise from the grounds north of the SIU Arena and Lingle Hall, which houses Saluki athletics department offices.

University dignitaries acknowledged the generosity of benefactor and alumnus Thomas P. "Pete" Wittmann, a former Saluki football player who flew in from Dallas for the festivities. Wittmann donated $4.5 million for construction of the building, expected to open fall 2005, and creation of an athletics scholarship endowment.

A native of Town and Country, Mo., his gift is the largest private donation in the University's history.

From it, $3.5 million will pay for construction of a spacious, high-tech athletic and academic center. Plans call for a first-floor fitness center encompassing a weight room and space for training, conditioning, treatment of injuries and physical rehabilitation.

On an upper level, athletes will find a mix of quiet areas in which to study or be tutored, along with high-speed Internet hook-ups and a combination of traditional modern educational resources, from computer labs to books and study guides.

"It is people such as Pete Wittmann who help this University grow and prosper and we certainly want him to know how much we appreciate what he's done and acknowledge his relationship with SIUC," Chancellor Walter V. Wendler said. "As a matter of fact, this whole project is about relationships Ð relationships between two former SIUC students and their relationship with Southern," he added.

"Pete came to this campus in the early 1960's and was a member of the Saluki football team. That's where he met Kenny Troutt. At Southern, Pete and Kenny became best friends. They were roommates and fraternity brothers. That relationship continues today. They are still best friends and incredibly successful business partners.

"As you may or may not know, Pete's very generous gift that will make this academic and training center a reality was made in honor of Kenny Troutt," Wendler added.

As a successful entrepreneur in his own right, Wittmann believes in the importance of education, particularly for collegiate athletes who must juggle schoolwork, intensive training, competition and hectic travel schedules. Toward that end, he is dedicating $1 million for endowed scholarships in honor of his father, William G. Wittmann. The funds will pay for four $125,000 graduate assistantships - - two for football, one in academic advising and one in strength and conditioning. The remaining $500,000 will go into a general scholarship endowment.

Glenn Poshard, chairman of the SIU Board of Trustees, recognized Wittmann for his unselfishness and commitment to rising generations of student-athletes.

"The University and its students will benefit from Mr. Wittmann's substantial gift. This marks the first time a new building on campus will be constructed entirely with private funds from a single donor," said Poshard.

Rickey N. McCurry, vice chancellor for institutional advancement and CEO of the SIU Foundation, said Wittmann's gift reflects his recognition of the vital role alumni and friends play in carrying forward the mission and vision of the University.

"The need for private resources to bridge the gap between the cost to execute our mission and vision and the dwindling resources available from the state is growing," McCurry said. "This level of private support helps to narrow the gap and at the same time address a major goal of cultivating new resources as outlined in Southern@150."

SIUC Athletics Director Paul Kowalczyk said the donation will help with recruiting, bolster school pride and enrich the whole student-athlete.

"Better facilities help us attract and train better student-athletes. The student-athletes serve as ambassadors for the University and its entire student body before fans and audiences across the country. When they and their teams win, the whole community wins.

"And when we work to ensure athletes take full advantage of their educational opportunities here, we enhance their future careers," he added. Promoting intercollegiate athletics also is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence through Commitment, a master improvement plan the University is following as it nears its 150th birthday in 2019.