The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

June 5, 2012

Mo. State-West Plains stunned by $4 million gift

WEST PLAINS, Mo. — The woman who made a $4 million donation to the West Plains campus of Missouri State University was on campus just once, back in 2004. She had lived in Texas for about 60 years.

It was by no means a sure thing that Lorene Thompson Brooks would leave her estate to MSU-West Plains. For a while, she had considered leaving it to the University of Texas at Austin, where she had become a fan of the ladies basketball program.

But what won the day for MSU-West Plains was the influence of her older brother, Bob Thompson, who lives in West Plains, and the kind and thoughtful correspondence Lorene received from the school’s librarian, Evelyn Vetter.

Lorene Thompson died Dec. 20, 2010. MSU publicly announced the gift in February.

Lorene’s gift was the largest scholarship donation in the history of MSU and the largest donation of any kind in the history of the West Plains campus, a two-year school with 2,100 students that opened in 1963. It’s 108 miles from the main campus in Springfield.

The contribution looms even larger because the campus is in the 11th poorest congressional district in the nation, according to Drew Bennett, West Plains chancellor.

When the amount of the gift was announced, people were stunned.

“None of us had any idea of the amount,” Bennett said. “Jaws hit the floor.”

That included Lorene’s brother.

She did not live extravagantly in Texas, he said last week, although she did prefer Cadillacs.

“She was just frugal, that is the main thing,” he said. “And she didn’t like paying taxes.”

Brother and sister grew up on a farm in tiny Koshkonong, about 17 miles southeast of West Plains. They had no other siblings.

As best as Thompson can tell, his sister came into money when her first husband died in an accident and, through investments over 40 years, $40,000 became a surprising $4 million.

Lorene had outlived her second husband, Ed Brooks, and had spent the last several years of her life in an Austin nursing home, suffering from dementia.

Thompson said his sister was a no-nonsense, strong-willed woman who, he said, just happened to be beautiful. Thompson said that when he returned to West Plains to retire 25 years ago, far more people remembered his good-looking sister than remembered him.

Lorene played volleyball at Koshkonong High School, where she graduated in 1948. She then attended business school in Springfield and moved to Texas to be with her high school sweetheart, Bruce Perkins. They married and had one child, a daughter named Deidre.

Thompson said he certainly might have influenced his sister in donating her estate to MSU-West Plains. It’s true that in the last several years of her life his sister suffered from dementia, he said, but she had made her intention clear long before the illness.

The real reason Lorene chose MSU-West Plains, he said, was the way she was treated and her fondness of Vetter, the librarian.

Vetter first corresponded with Lorene after Deidre, who lived in Minneapolis, died of cancer in the 1990s. Deidre, who never married, had an extensive book collection and her cousin, Bill Perkins, suggested the books be donated to the MSU-West Plains library. Perkins, now 66, is the former Oregon County prosecuting attorney. He is a lawyer in Thayer.

Lorene agreed to donate the books and was impressed by the friendly thank-you letter she received from Vetter. She made two more $5,000 donations to MSU-West Plains.

On Oct. 30, 1998, Vetter wrote Lorene: “Thank you so much for your letter and check for $5,000 for our library. It was the last letter I opened of the day and what a joy it gave us!”

Lorene requested information about MSU-West Plains. In a letter to MSU, she wrote that she didn’t want any of her contributions spent on “fur coats, fancy cars or world travel.”

Vetter, 65, who retired in 2008, said she liked Lorene, although the two never met.

“She wanted to make sure her donation was going to go for a good purpose,” Vetter said. “That it would help something that would endure. She struck me as very intelligent, astute.”

The gift will be used in the way Lorene stipulated in her will. The money will help students who need financial help.

 

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