ASU Gets $100 Million Gift

Fulton Homes founder shares wealth

Jessica Wanke - The Arizona Republic

Arizona State University President Michael Crow must have been good this year because he is getting one heck of a Christmas present.

Ira Fulton, founder and chief executive officer of Fulton Homes, donated $100 million to the university, his alma mater, just in time for the holiday.

The contribution, finalized late this week, is to be split among the College of Education, the ASU Foundation and a special discretionary fund for Crow, Fulton said. The university has not yet hashed out the particulars of how the money will be spent, university spokeswoman Terri Schafer said. She said the money likely will be used for educational programs that will benefit students, as opposed to construction of new buildings.

Fulton was already the largest private donor in university history, having contributed more than $58 million since 2003. His latest gift puts him in the upper echelon of donors to public education nationwide.

If all goes as Fulton hopes, the College of Education will be renamed the Mary Lou Fulton School of Education, after his wife, who graduated from the college.

"That's her Christmas present from me," Fulton said. "What can you buy your wife who has everything? I'm going to get her a college in her name."

The two met in the early 1950s while they were students in the College of Education. Both left before graduating and, though Ira never returned, Mary Lou did and received her degree in 1975.

Mary Lou, 72, has since volunteered with children but never formally worked in the field of education.

"I've got the best wife in the world," Ira Fulton said. "She is my nuclear generator and my beacon and my sweetheart and my pompon girl and everything else. She's very, very special to me. That's why naming the College of Education after her is so special."

Fulton said he wants $25 million of his contribution to go to a discretionary fund to give Crow money for his special projects and initiatives.

"I feel so fortunate to have that man running our university," Fulton said. "I don't give this kind of money away to people. This guy deserves it, earns it, and he'll invest it properly."

Crow described the gift as "unprecedented and magnificent."

"It's tremendous and an important recognition of their understanding that the university needs to be built by the entire community, not just the government," Crow said Friday.

Since Crow took the helm at ASU in 2002, he has made a concerted effort to forge relationships with successful alumni, encouraging them to become engaged in the university.

Since their first meeting in March 2003, Fulton has pledged financial support for ASU's College of Engineering (now the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering), Decision Theater and the College of Education. He also has been instrumental in encouraging others to donate to the university through match grants.

"He's very much committed to just making the school better for the kids that come here," Crow said of Fulton earlier this year. "He is an exceedingly generous and open person to making things happen. He really gives to those things that are going to have some kind of impact."

Private contributions, like those from Fulton, have injected the public university with much-needed support at a time when state funding for higher education is limited.

Financial support is especially needed given the university's growth. This semester, ASU became the largest university in the country in terms of student enrollment.

Fulton, who was born and raised only blocks from the university in Tempe, believes Arizona's success is contingent upon having a strong university system.

"I love my state," Fulton said. "And the state doesn't have enough money to fund education."

The Fultons' giving has landed them for several years on BusinessWeek's list of "The 50 Most Generous Philanthropists," in the company of Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. This latest gift, and one of equal size they plan to give to Brigham Young University in the near future, will likely secure the Fultons a spot on next year's list as well.

Fulton said he hopes his giving will encourage others who have been successful to share their wealth.

Fulton, who is the honorary chairman of the university's development committee, said he plans to stay involved with ASU and intends to donate more money in the future.

"He (Crow) is going to get a lot more. This isn't going to stop," Fulton said.

Before this latest donation, the Fultons' net worth after charitable giving was estimated by the 2005 BusinessWeek list to be about $425 million.

Fulton's fortune comes from his business, Fulton Homes, which builds medium-price to high-end homes in Maricopa and Pinal counties. As the population continues to boom in Arizona, the fastest-growing state after Nevada, business has been good for the company.

At 74 and a self-made millionaire, Fulton could retire, but he says his work allows him to keep contributing to causes he believes in, like education and the Mormon Church, to which he belongs.

"I'd be crazy at 75 to be working this hard if I didn't have a cause," he said.

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