SIUC benefactor dies at 100

By Gus Bode

W. Clement Stone gave $1 million to University

W. Clement Stone, a Chicago philanthropist who tried to save an SIU president’s reputation, died at the age of 100 Tuesday in Evanston Hospital.

Stone was the founder and chairman emeritus of the Combined International Corp., an insurance company that later merged with Ryan Insurance Group and became Aon Corp. with revenues that exceed $2 billion.

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Stone, whose philanthropic donations are estimated at more than $275 million, gave part of his wealth to SIUC so the University could finish building what is now known as the Stone Center.

The Stone Center, which houses the office of SIU President James Walker, was constructed with help from Stone, who donated $1 million toward the project in 1970.

The passage of time hasn’t affected the center’s value to the University, said John Jackson, a staff member of SIUC’s Public Policy Institute.

“The Stone Center is valuable for holding events and social events,” he said. “It’s a crucial piece of property and continues to be so 30 years later.”

The Stone Center was once the University House, a home constructed for former SIU President Delyte Morris. It now contains the SIU President’s Office and guest rooms for University visitors.

The Stone Center lies on about 10 acres along the southwest corner of campus off Douglas Drive.

When construction began in 1969, President Morris estimated a cost of $500,000, but the project’s expenses quickly toppled over budget. Expenses shot up to $1 million, which left the SIU Board of Trustees searching for a solution to fix the cash shortage.

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When the Illinois Board of Higher Education caught wind of the financial trouble, officials said the construction was unauthorized and seriously considered terminating its completion.

Rumors surfaced that research funds were misused to finance part of building, sparking an outrage among community members and University officials.

“You could look at it as the beginning of the end of the Delyte Morris era,” John Jackson said.

That’s when Stone offered SIUC $1 million in stock to apply toward the construction project. He wanted to ensure that additional advancements at the University would not be marred by controversy.

But the contribution came too late to prevent the resignation of Morris in 1970, said Robert Harper, a retired SIUC professor who wrote about the story in his book “The University that Shouldn’t Have Happened, But Did.”

“He tried to bail President Morris out,” Harper said. “It really didn’t do any good because the bad publicity had already started.”

After he resigned, many speculated that the problems with the center’s financing played a significant role in his decision.

In honor of Stone’s contribution, the facility was named the W. Clement and Jessie V. Stone house in 1982, a title that was later amended to the Stone House and eventually the Stone Center.

Although Morris left the University without ever living in the facility, the Stone Center served his successors. After the house was finished in 1971, then-SIU President Warren W. Brand moved in, living in the house for six years until Albert Somit took the reins as president, residing in the center until 1987. Somit was the last president to live in the house, and former Chancellor Lawrence K. Pettit was the last person to live there, moving out in 1991.

The living quarters are still used for accommodating guests of the University, said Scott Kaiser, spokesman for SIU President James Walker.

‘The Stone Center is one of the jewels on this campus and provides an excellent place for meetings, reception and overnight guests,” he said.

And Stone’s contribution to the University continues to live on.

“People recognize that he was someone who gave a great deal to the University,” Kaiser said. “He was a great believer in SIU’s mission.”

Reporter Ben Botkin can be reached [email protected]

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