Throughout the history of Davis & Elkins College, there have been a handful of individuals whose transformational leadership and commitment have fundamentally altered the trajectory of this institution.  St. Louis resident Mr. James S. McDonnell III deserves an honored place on this elite list.

Mr. McDonnell’s journey with Davis & Elkins College began when his daughter, Marcella McDonnell Stevens, enrolled at D&E in 1981. Four years later, at her graduation, Jim provided the commencement address. At that ceremony, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws. Jim and Elizabeth “Libby” McDonnell began their generous financial support of the College at that time. An endowed faculty chair in business and economics was a result of Mr. McDonnell’s generosity, and was given in honor of Dr. Gloria M. Payne who was highly influential to Marcella McDonnell during her years as a student.

Jim began his service on the D&E Board of Trustees in 1991. Other than the required year off the board between nine years terms of service, Jim has served Davis & Elkins for 27 of the past 30 years. He has been faithful in his commitment to Board service and offered consistent and wise counsel to five presidents of this institution.

The legacy of Jim and Libby McDonnell is firmly ensconced on the Davis & Elkins College campus. In addition to the aforementioned endowed faculty chair, the McDonnells supplied the lead gift to the Centennial Campaign in the early 2000s that resulted in the construction of The McDonnell Center for Health, Physical Education, and Athletics. The 2018 completion of the Secure the Future Campaign, the largest capital campaign in the history of Davis & Elkins College, was made possible by a $25 million challenge gift through the James S. McDonnell Foundation and the James S. McDonnell Charitable Trust.  Jim’s willingness to match all gifts to the College in the final years of the campaign was the catalyst that resulted in $101.4 million committed to D&E that retired its debt, significantly increased its endowment, and moved us from financially struggling to financially stable.

Jim’s third term on the Board of Trustees comes to its conclusion in June. Though Jim is a humble individual who has never sought recognition, I simply cannot let his Board service conclude without expressing my sincere and deep gratitude to one who has given so much to a small College in the mountains of West Virginia. It is not hyperbole to say we would not be the institution we are today without our friend, Jim McDonnell.

Like our two early founders of the College, Senator Davis and Senator Elkins, Jim’s leadership and generosity have left an indelible mark on our campus. To Jim, we offer our enduring gratitude and our sacred commitment to keep D&E fiscally sound, academically challenging, and always devoted to the type of transformative education that Marcella experienced.

On the journey we encounter people who profoundly influence us and our institutions. The students, alumni, friends, faculty, staff, and trustees of D&E are fortunate our journeys crossed paths and traveled together for 40 years with Jim McDonnell’s journey. Having been blessed by Jim, our responsibility for the future is to be a blessing to others as our journey continues.

Chris A. Wood
Davis & Elkins College