$20.9 million gift to transform scholarships

Photo by Anna Drake

A gift from the longtime owner of Park Road Shopping Center has added $20.9 million to Queens’ endowment for future scholarships.
In a flurry of transactions over the summer, Porter Byrum first donated the popular shopping center that he owned for 44 years to three universities – Queens, Wake Forest and Wingate. Byrum, 92, then helped the universities sell the center to developer Edens & Avant, which plans to continue operating the community-focused center that is popular with Queens students. Finally, Queens added the proceeds from its 25.5 percent share of the shopping center to its endowment and pledged to use the money for scholarships.

“The Byrum gift will create the Byrum Scholars Program, and it will be exclusively used for scholarship dollars,” Queens President Pamela Davies said in an interview. The money will increase the endowment to approximately $75 million, making it what the university calls “a truly transformational gift.”

While the money will go exclusively to scholarships, how it will be distributed is still up in the air. Dean of Students John Downey said it will part of Queens’ 2012-2017 strategic plan that will be devoted to academic quality as opposed to infrastructure construction, the focus of the current five-year plan. “That Porter Byrum gift is going to be used for scholarships for students, not for infrastructure – we’ve done enough for infrastructure,” he said. “We still have work to do, don’t get me wrong. But we’re going to be focused more on quality of everything we offer here at Queens now that we’ve been able to invest in our facilities…. The Porter Byrum gift is really just gravy on top of gravy.”

Dean Downey said Queens has been talking to Byrum, 92, for some time and “wanted to see this happen in his lifetime.”

Bryrum, a retired Charlotte lawyer and son of a Baptist preacher, and his three brothers followed their father to Wake Forest, all attending tuition free, according to a story in The Charlotte Observer. “My daddy never would have been able to put four boys through college, so somebody ought to pay back that debt,” Byrum said. “It makes me feel good to do that.”
Wake Forest was gifted 51 percent of the value of the shopping center, while Queens and Wingate split the remainder.

Byrum bought the Park Road Shopping Center in 1967 and continued to manage it into his 90s. According to The Observer story, he built a rose garden at the center and often visits the stores and restaurants.

“Queens is grateful for Mr. Byrum’s generous investment in our mission and our future,” President Davies said in a statement. “His gift will provide scholarships for many generations of students to come and we are proud to be part of his philanthropic legacy.”

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