Surprise, Samford: $100 million gift will keep the giving going

Alum who gained inspiration from attending the university in the 1950s died recently but left a massive donation for future students.

It might be to quantify the value of first-generation students on an institution of higher education. They bring added diversity and viewpoints to campuses, uplift their communities and spark future family members to follow in their paths. Their successes also lead to successes for their institutions, not just in terms of first-time completion but in potential philanthropy.

It is not uncommon for a first-gen donor to give back and present a story on how their university was transformational in helping inspire them to greatness. Sometimes it takes a while for that happen. Sometimes the donor already has passed.

Marvin Mann was that unassuming first-gen student who attended Samford University in the 1950s, rising from a hardscrabble childhood to become a tech leader, helping develop the UPC code at IBM and becoming the CEO of Lexmark International—yes, that Lexmark, the printing company. Mann passed away in March at age 88 after complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Recently, his estate was revealed and in it was a gift to Samford: $100 million.

Just like that, small Samford University in Alabama—best known for its No. 1 ranking on student engagement and producing legendary football coach Bobby Bowden—gained $95 million for its endowed student scholarships and $5 million for its Frances Marlin Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership, which opened 14 years ago in honor of Mann’s late wife. Samford, which became Mann’s training ground after he grew up through the Great Depression, started that path to achieving his dreams.

“My father occasionally told stories of hitchhiking to and from Samford during the 1950s, so he must have highly valued his experience there, especially considering the effort he had to go through to attend,” said Mann’s son, Jeff Mann. “It’s obvious that my father revered Samford University and its community. For anyone to provide a gift that represents decades of hard work, leadership and successful investing he must have had full confidence in the leadership and future of the institution.”

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Samford officials were both floored and overjoyed at the donation, the largest in school history and the single biggest gift ever to an Alabama institution. More than 100 students every year will receive additional support ($3.75 million) for students who need it, helping them carve their own futures, perhaps in some way like Mann did.

“I look forward to developing plans to strengthen the university’s ability to attract high-caliber students from a variety of backgrounds, for whom a Samford education would be financially out of reach without important scholarship support,” President Beck Taylor said. “Access and affordability remain two of the largest opportunities Samford has to extend its reach to more students and families. These funds will allow us to come alongside students who want to attend Samford in new and exciting ways while also reaching new populations of prospective students for whom Samford will be a great choice for their educational needs.”

Beyond his dogged determination to load up on as many classes as possible at Samford and increase his business prowess, Mann also believed there was more to success than earnings alone. He helped develop the Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership to help counterbalance that idea, saying that “teaching students how to succeed in the world of business is no longer enough.” The university, in fact, has named its own Ethics in Business award after him.

“When I spoke with Marvin last fall, he continued to voice his desire to see Samford’s students develop through virtue and character education. He was an inspiration to me,” Taylor said.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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