The Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences will name its new College of Dental Medicine building after one of the most prolific philanthropists in the Joplin area.
Harry M. Cornell, the retired president and CEO of Leggett & Platt Inc., has given $10 million toward the dental school, for which a groundbreaking is planned next year. As a result, the building will be named the Harry M. Cornell Dental Education Center, KCU leaders have announced.
“I supported the need for the future KCU College of Dental Medicine to help give Joplin and the surrounding area significant additional health care opportunities,” Cornell said in a statement provided to the Globe by his family. “It is important to our region’s overall health care that we educate dentists for underserved areas and meet the needs of the population.”
Cornell’s $10 million gift is his second donation to KCU in the past five years. His first gift of $10 million was instrumental in the development of KCU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in Joplin, which opened in 2017 in the former temporary Mercy Hospital. That building also bears his name as the Harry M. Cornell Medical Education Center.
“Mr. Cornell is an important member of our community who has shared our mission and vision,” said Marc. B. Hahn, president and CEO of KCU, in an interview with the Globe. “We’ve been blessed by having relationships between important community leaders here and the university, and that’s made for our success.”
Cornell has been a major donor to projects and institutions across the region, including the University of Missouri, Missouri Southern State University and Freeman Health System.
He will lend his name to the Harry M. Cornell Arts & Entertainment Complex, which is slated to be built on the parking lot of Joplin’s Memorial Hall. Cornell provided the lead gift of $5 million toward that project, which will house Connect2Culture and Spiva Center for the Arts and will serve as a base for visual and performing arts.
In 2018, he was inducted into the Hall of Carthage Heroes. He also was inducted into the American Furniture Hall of Fame as an Industry Fellow in 2014 and was named Carthage’s Citizen of the Year in 1998.
Cornell said he is “proud” to be listed among supporters of the dental school.
“The entire campus will support broad health care needs when the KCU College of Dental Medicine is located next to the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences” medical center, he said.
KCU’s entire 50-acre campus in Joplin is named for local businessman Rudy Farber and local physician Larry McIntire, who are also among the donors to the dental school project. Other donors to the College of Dental Medicine include the Joplin Regional Medical School Alliance, the Sunderland Foundation and the Farber Foundation.
“They shared in the vision, they shared in the excitement and, really, they embraced the mission” of KCU, which is to improve the well-being of the communities that the university serves, Hahn said.
The total cost of the dental school project is expected to be around $80 million. Of that amount, half has been committed by KCU’s board of trustees. The remaining $40 million is being pledged by donors, and approximately $30 million has already been secured — less than five months after the university had announced in June that it would bring a dental school to Joplin.
That quick fundraising pace came as a surprise even to Hahn, he said. He said the last $10 million will likely be raised over the course of one to two years because those expected donation amounts are likely to be smaller.
A groundbreaking is to be scheduled in late spring or early summer, Hahn said. The designing of the building is underway by Helix Architecture + Design, of Kansas City, and SmithGroup, based in Detroit, Michigan.
KCU officials plan to seat the first class of 80 dental medicine students in 2022. They’ve also launched a national search for a dean for the college.