Jack Stephens Center holds 5600 fans, controversial beginnings
One of UALR’s most famous building is the beloved Jack Stephens Center.
For many students, this structure is home to incredible basketball games, regular coaching sessions, and a spacious parking spot. But the Center’s genesis is also the result of Jack Stephens’ unbelievable hard work and a struggle against harsh times and conventions of society. Taking note of his dedication to UALR and the state of Arkansas is enough to realize why the Center is named after him.
According to “The Encyclopedia of Arkansas”, Jack Stephens was born on August 9, 1923 in Prattsville, Ark. to farmer and aspiring politician A. J. Stephens and a devoted wife and mother Ethel Pumphrey Stephens. In spite of Jack Stephens’ well known wealth and generosity, the circumstances into which he was born were anything but prosperous.
Love for work was essential in the Stephens household. From the age of 10, Jack Stephens started out helping his father in the field and, by his teen years, was working three jobs: bellhop, shoeshine boy and telegram deliverer. After graduating high school from Columbia Military Academy in Tennessee, Jack Stephens attended a semester at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He was then accepted into the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. An incredible experience would change his life forever there –his meeting and eventual long-lasting friendship with a fellow student named Jimmy Carter who would go on to become the thirty-seventh president of the United States.
In spite of graduating with exceptional grades from the naval academy, Stephens never enlisted in active duty due to his poor eyesight. When life seemed to hit a dead end, he accepted an invitation from his brother Witt to participate in a small Arkansan company called Stephens, Inc. Witt Stephens’ public persona and Jack Stephens’ intelligent business skills were primary factors responsible for the success of the company.
Stephens’ business tactics were sought after and respected. He is directly or indirectly responsible for the super-success of companies like Walmart and Dillard’s. Hailed by many as a business prophet, Jack Stephens made few but effective public addresses where he discussed future of companies in which he worked and believed.
While his fame grew from local to national to international levels, his life was not without trouble. Two of his marriages ended in divorce and not all of his investments turned out to be successful. However, things turned around in 1957 when he became the president of his company and he purchased a number of oil firms. Within a few years, Stephens, Inc. grew from a small financial establishment to a gigantic business powerhouse.
“There are only two pleasures associated with money: making it and giving it away.” This statement from Stephens explains his generous donations and public charity. Some of his most famous donations are:
- $48 million – Jackson T. Stephens Spine and Neurosciences Institute at UAMS
- $22 million -Arkansas Arts Center, along with money to expand the center
- $10 million – United States Naval Academy
His love for golf, as well as his active participation on boards of various private and government organizations such as University of Arkansas, the Little Rock Boys Club, the Quapaw Council of the Boy Scouts of America are well-known, but what places Jack Stephens at the top of the list of UALR pioneers is his love for education and dedication to the university.
One donation and the story behind it are noteworthy. Jack Stephens’ alma mater, UAF, once played many football games at the War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. However, after they received funding to build their own stadium, their use of the Little Rock stadium slowly dwindled to two, and then just one, game a year. Jack Stephens, a faithful Razorback fan, Little Rock resident, and prominent board member, expressed public outrage at UAF’s decision. Therefore, he made an offer that no one that could refuse.
Stephens donated 20.4 million to our UALR specifically to build a state-of-the-art arena that would not only be a great asset to the university but also a center that non-university locals could appreciate. Today, the Jack Stephens Center is considered one of the great American college sports arenas along with arenas like that at University of North Carolina.
Jack Stephens passed away on July 23, 2005, but his legacy remains in UALR’s own arena.