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University expands the Student Union name to pay tribute to Ford

The University of Mississippi is renaming its Student Union to the Gertrude C. Ford Ole Miss Student Union in honor of the philanthropist whose foundation has provided more than $ 64 million in support of Oxford campuses and UM Medical Center. Photo by Kevin Bain / Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

The far-reaching impact of the late philanthropist Gertrude Castellow Ford will once again be honored, this time with the appointment of Ole Miss Student Union, which almost has doubled in size after completion of a construction project.

The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Education board voted unanimously on Thursday (October 15) to allow the University of Mississippi to rename the building as the Gertrude C. Ford Ole Miss Student Union. The foundation he created has contributed a total support of more than $ 64.5 million to the Oxford and UM Medical Center campuses.

Cheryle Sims, president of the Ford Foundation, said she and other directors are pleased that the legacy of the late Gertrude C. Ford continues to expand.

"Mrs. Ford would be delighted if she knew that her name would be on a building where students, professors, alumni and others study, meet, collaborate and dine, ”he said. “In normal times, the Student Union is the center of the vibrant life on the Ole Miss campus, and the expansion and renovation project is absolutely impressive.

“The board and I are delighted that our benefactress, Gertrude Castellow Ford, is being honored now and for years to come through a building that serves so many people and for so many purposes.”

Built in the mid-1970s, Ole Miss Student Union underwent a major expansion and renovation project that began in 2015 and opened with the fall semester of 2019. Over 173,000 square feet were added to the facility, including a classroom 8,000 square foot dance floor. Larger lobbies and dining rooms, as well as more conference meeting spaces, were needed to better serve the student population with a more modern and attractive student life center.

Chancellor Glenn F. Boyce said the university is grateful for the longstanding relationship and philanthropic partnership with the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation.

"The University of Mississippi and indeed the citizens of the entire state of Mississippi are indebted to the Ford Foundation for their thoughtful investments that do so much for so many," he said. “Here at the university, we are pleased to honor the legacy of Gertrude C. Ford by changing the name of Ole Miss Student Union to Gertrude C. Ford Ole Miss Student Union.

"The impact of the Ford Foundation's support is felt across all of our campuses, and it is wonderful to further honor and celebrate Gertrude C. Ford's transformative passion for bettering our state."

A celebratory event to commemorate the name change will be scheduled later on campus.

Most recently, the Ford Foundation committed $ 25 million to the construction of a science, technology, engineering and math facility, marking its long-standing investments in academic and cultural arts resources. The foundation provided another $ 10 million to the MIND Center at the Medical Center to advance Alzheimer's disease research, resulting in the MIND Research Center being renamed Ford.

The new STEM facility will increase graduates in related fields; support the growth of the state, regional and national economy; and strengthen the training channel for health professionals, engineers, and science and mathematics teachers. The walkway through the Science District, which will be used by thousands of students, alumni and friends, faculty and staff, will be called Gertrude C. Ford Way.

In addition to Sims, John C. Lewis and Gayle M. Papa serve as directors and officers of the foundation, which was created in 1991.

"The directors of the Ford Foundation continue to demonstrate a deep commitment to supporting the University of Mississippi, which, in turn, has a powerful impact on Mississippi," said Charlotte Parks, vice chancellor for development. “The opportunities we are able to offer our students through them make a dramatic difference in the Lafayette-Oxford-University community, the state, and beyond.”

The Ford Foundation first began its long-time support of the university when it contributed $ 25 million to the 88,000-square-foot Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, opened in 2002. The Ford Center hosts programming intellectual and cultural enrichment for all ages through the performing arts, public affairs and the humanities.

The foundation's support of other university initiatives includes the Gertrude C. Ford Ballroom at The Inn at Ole Miss, the Daniel W. Jones, MD Chair of Faculty Support at Oxford Campus, the Suzan Thames Chair of Pediatrics on the campus medical center and essential land for Gertrude C. Ford Boulevard, providing the first new north-south thoroughfare on campus for the growing Oxford University community.

A descendant of a long line of humanitarians, Gertrude Ford was known for her philanthropic spirit. In 1991, he established the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation in Jackson. It was not until after his death in 1998 that the directors of the Ford Foundation presented Ole Miss with a multi-million dollar gift to design and build the performing arts center.

Throughout her life, Ms. Ford was a fervent advocate for the arts. He played flute, violin, and piano, and spoke French, Latin, and Spanish. He also enjoyed studying literature, particularly Shakespeare.

Ford died in September 1996. She and her husband, Aaron Land Ford, Ackerman's attorney and United States Congressman, are buried in Cuthbert, a small town in southwestern Georgia.

By Tina H. Hahn

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