Football head coach Pete Lembo, trustee Rick Hall and President Jo Ann Gora break ground with Ron and Joan Venderly and others June 19 at the spot for the new Ronald E. and Joan M. Venderly Football Team Complex. DN PHOTO JORDAN HUFFER
Some people don't remember the skepticism Jo Ann Gora faced when she was named Ball State’s president a decade ago. She had never worked with a Division I athletic program before, and so the question was raised.
Would Gora make athletics a priority?
“Literally, in my first year, I raised the money to build Scheumann Stadium, and last year, I raised the money for this Cardinal Commitment campaign,” Gora said. “In the middle, I raised a lot of money for academics and other kinds of campus improvements.”
Gora’s appearance at Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the Ronald E. and Joan M. Venderly Football Team Complex was one of her last as university president. She wanted to celebrate the beginning of yet another major project before stepping down.
“It’s a symbol of this campaign, and what I have tried to stress,” she said.
The Cardinal Commitment campaign, a fundraising effort of $20 million within Ball State’s athletic department, is nearing its end. The school has surpassed $19 million, Gora said Thursday, proving her point.
She said the key to Ball State’s future growth is private donation. State funding alone won’t do the trick, thus making donors like the Venderlys imperative.
After years of joining the Venderlys at public events and as passengers on flights to away football games, Gora has bonded with the couple that has been loyal to Ball State. She even gave Ron Venderly a Ball State tie Thursday and made sure he wore it.
“[Gora's] a dandy," he said. "She’s like my little sister."
Ron Venderly, a 1964 alumnus, talks at the groundbreaking ceremony of the football team complex that will carry his name. Venderly is an avid cardinal football fan and spoke about the pride he has in having his name on a building at his alma mater. DN PHOTO JORDAN HUFFER
Venderly has long been accustomed to ceremonies like Thursday’s, and the tie is not the first gift he’s received from Ball State. The President’s Medal of Distinction he received in 2009 and a four-foot, glass-blown trophy are among his most treasured.
Over the last 10 years, though, his largest donations weren’t to the athletics department.
Venderly also serves on the Teachers College advisory board and helped to establish the Ronald E. and Joan M. Venderly Scholarship Endowment, which provides scholarships for more than 30 Ball State students from the Fort Wayne, Ind., area.
“I think in the last 10 years, [the Venderlys] developed an interest in athletics,” Gora said. “I think this is the largest commitment they’ve ever made to an athletics campaign.”
The timing for the donation could not have been better for an athletic department that is on the upswing.
The Ball State football team won 10 games last season, just the third time in program history the feat has been accomplished and has played in back-to-back bowl games.
Upgrading facilities can play a major role in maintaining that success.
“We need to continue to reinvest in our programs to remain competitive,” said Bill Scholl, Ball State’s athletic director.
For Gora, the groundbreaking ceremony was the end of a decade of balancing athletics and academics.
“It’s a great example of what you can do when people care enough to make a difference,” Gora said.
This article was published with permission of the Fort Wayne News Sentinel. Dakota Crawford is a staff reporter for The Ball State Daily News and interning at the News Sentinel.
Juniors Jason Pickell and Ashley Flick tour the new football locker rooms on June 19. These locker rooms came from the contributions from donors as part of Cardinal Commitment, a multi-million dollar fundraising plan to benefit athletics. DN PHOTO JORDAN HUFFER