George W. Donaghey: the man with the omnipresent name
by Shashank Avvaru
Students that walk into the Donaghey Student Center each day may never wonder about its fascinating origins. They may never question why “Donaghey” in front of Student Center, or why there is Donaghey Avenue in Conway, but students have George W. Donaghey to thank for much of the formation of UALR.
George Washington Donaghey was born to an Oakland, Louisiana couple on July 1, 1856 and raised with five other children. As a member of a family that believed that work was education, Donaghey worked a number of odd jobs that included a cowboy and a carpenter’s apprentice.
Having instilled a passion to attend college and experience the life of a scholar, he attended a year at University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1882. This precious year, he later recalled, helped him understand the importance of a university and the value of education. In the decade that followed, George made two life-changing decisions. One was his decision to become a full-time carpenter. His intricate skills transported him from the status of a regular builder to a contractor well-known all over Arkansas for his excellent architectural and construction ability. The second was the decision to marry Louvenia Wallace.
“UALR has been the sole beneficiary of the endowment that Gov. and Mrs. Donaghey established on July 1, 1929, and, almost 85 years later, the institution continues to thrive in part because of that support,” said Chancellor Joel Anderson. “Without Governor Donaghey’s vision for higher education in central Arkansas, UALR would not be a regional leader among metropolitan universities in transformative academic programs, breakthrough research, and meaningful community engagement.”
Well-settled as a prosperous contractor, Donaghey and his wife made their first contribution to the education sector in the form of $1500 to the Hendrix College Fund. Such actions for the welfare of the community made the Donagheys very popular, and many already considered George as a potential leader.
In the following years, the couple made various contributions to colleges in the state and promoted the advantages of making such donations whenever and wherever they could. But the Donagheys truly “touched the sky” after moving to Little Rock in 1908, when Donaghey enrolled in the Democratic Party to run for governor.
Donaghey eventually won the election and the re-election that followed, etching his name as one of Arkansas’ most influential governors in American history. Donaghey made direct and indirect contributions to the construction and maintenance of six different schools and colleges, the construction of the State Capitol Building in Little Rock despite financial and public pressure looming over the administration, and even the 360 pardons that Donaghey granted toward the end of his term to prisoners serving long sentences for relatively minor offenses. He later remarked that these prisoners were living in hells and he would have happily granted as many pardons as possible for as long as he was alive.
But it is UALR that many-the Donaghey couple included-believe to be the Donagheys’ crown jewel. Known as “Little Rock Junior College” at the time, UALR was a one-building structure with a few classes and even fewer students. Beginning in the early 1920s, the couple started donating small amounts (approximately $3000) per year.
By 1929, the college became the beneficiary of the Donaghey Foundation, a $2 million organization at the time. The Donagheys raised this amount in countless ways – fundraisers, charity events, politicians’ and wealthy businessmen’s proceeds, etc. The childless couple fell into the habit of “calling all the young people of Arkansas our children” and was loved and respected everywhere.
“UALR is fortunate that the Donagheys did not have children,” said Clifford Ramsey, Director of the Donaghey Scholars Program. “Because they were childless, they left most of their fortune to what has become the Donaghey Foundation. Funds from the Donaghey Foundation have made an immense difference at UALR. Those funds have moved many projects and programs from ‘drawing board potential’ to ‘achieved.’
Today, apart from direct financial contributions to the construction of our university, the Donaghey Foundation is the backbone of the Donaghey Scholars program, a program helping hundreds of students across the campus with financial aid and scholarships. The Donaghey Foundation funding has certainly made a huge difference to the Donaghey Scholars Program,” Ramsey said.
Even though George Donaghey passed away in 1937, the program is carried on by politicians and financial powerhouses from all across the state.
“The program might not exist–it certainly would not thrive—without Donagheys’ support (they give us more than a million dollars a year). UALR would be a different, and a lesser, place without the contributions of the Donaghey Foundation,” Ramsey said.
The same Little Rock Junior College that was once doomed to disappear would not have become a school of international reputation and the school responsible for producing excellent students without George Donaghey.
“When fifty years have passed and a great university is sending out thousands of young men and women to bless humanity,” Donaghey once said, “I would like to think that with the endowment I have been able to give, my life has not been in vain.”
Note: all information not collected from personal interviews is accredited to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture and “The People’s College” by Jim Lester.