Arizona has been able to stay competitive in the Pac-12’s game of high finance because three donors recently contributed a total of more than $30 million to athletic facilities.
Their backgrounds couldn’t be more fascinating.
David Lowell, a 1940’s UA grad in geological engineering, who grew up near Nogales, made a fortune in gold and copper mines, mostly in South America. His wife, Edith Lowell, graduated in anthropology from the UA.
Jeff and Sharon Stevens met at the UA in the early 1980s. Her father was the athletic department’s dentist for almost 30 years. Jeff Stevens made his money in oil; if you see a Western Refining tanker truck on the highway, it belongs to him.
Cole and Jeannie Davis met while working at the YWCA in Dayton, Ohio. She earned a law degree at Notre Dame.
They got married, had two children, and Cole left the YWCA, starting in the RV business. “I took a pay cut,’’ he says with a laugh. At 42, he started over, a sales trainee. By 50, he owned Keystone RV.
The Davis’ extended family still lives in Elkhart, Ind. — “that’s the world capital for the RV business,’’ he says — but they’ve lived in Tucson for 15 years, drawn mostly by the weather and the city's feel as a college community.
Much like the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, the Davis’ name will be displayed prominently when the ambitious, $80-million McKale Center makeover is completed, but UA athletic director Greg Byrne says the McKale name will “always be part of the title.’’
The Davises have become difference-makers. They have contributed $10 million to UA basketball during a period Oregon, Cal, Oregon State, Washington, Stanford, USC and UCLA all rebuilt and refurbished their basketball plants.
Here’s some perspective: Until the Lowells, the Stevenses and the Davises became the largest donors in UA athletic history, Bill Hillenbrand was the department’s most notable donor. He supplied the money to build Hillenbrand Stadium for softball and the Hillenbrand Aquatics Center. Those 20-year-old projects cost about $3 million total.
Hillenbrand, who came by his fortune via the family funeral-services business in Indiana, was a college dropout and former Army MP who moved to Tucson for the weather.
Mining. Oil. RVs. Caskets.
At Arizona, that’s what it takes to keep the athletic department paying the bills.