Forward Together

Payne’s Gift Will Name Pavilion’s Hill Drive Entrance

By | Donor Support, Forward Together

Abb Payne’s University of Mississippi roots go way back. In fact, his grandfather played football for Ole Miss in the late ’20s, worked with the campus grounds crew to pay tuition and even planted many of the trees in the historic Grove. Now, just as those mighty oaks have grown from saplings to stanchions of strength, Payne of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, hopes his gift to Ole Miss Athletics will help its programs grow into national powerhouses. “We also hope it solidifies our appreciation to the Ole Miss family as a whole. Several generations of Paynes have attended Ole Miss, and we all reconnect around our love of the university and the great memories we have,” said Payne, a member of the UM Foundation and Ole Miss Alumni boards. “Athletics plays such a crucial role in the love you have for a school and provides a great reason to stay engaged over decades. Ole Miss Athletics does that for our family.”

For his generosity, the Payne name will adorn the Hill Drive entrance of the Pavilion at Ole Miss, UM’s premier basketball arena. But to Payne, the honor goes beyond sports. “Of course, the Pavilion is state of the art and should be a wonderful facility for the university for decades in sports as well as for so many other events, like commencements or concerts, so it was a great fit for us because we’re Ole Miss fans in all respects,” he said.

A 1998 graduate of the School of Business Administration, Payne is president and CEO of The Payne Companies, employing thousands nationwide in various entities including home health, private duty, infusion pharmacies, assisted living facilities, hotels, apartments and industrial corporate real estate. From 2003-2018, he was president and CEO of Camellia Home Health and Hospice of Hattiesburg for which he was instrumental in expanding the company through a number of mergers and acquisitions and ultimately overseeing its sale to Encompass Health — the nation’s fourth largest healthcare company. Additionally he is the founder of InfusionPlus, a company that administers highly complex intravenous therapies across Mississippi and was ranked by Inc. Magazine as the ninth fastest growing healthcare company in the nation.

Payne and Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics Keith Carter are contemporaries, having attended Ole Miss together. While Payne said he appreciates Carter’s “great momentum,” Carter expressed gratitude for Payne’s support. “For generations, the Paynes have been prominent on this campus. I’m proud to see that the Payne name now has a permanent home here,” Carter said. “We greatly appreciate Abb’s longtime support of our programs and we look forward to the achievements his gift will help us win.”

Payne holds master’s and juris doctorate degrees from Florida State University and is an attorney, real estate developer, property manager, and forester.

“As an established and highly respected leader, Abb understands what it takes to build sustained success at the highest level,” said Jordie Kindervater, director of development/major gifts. “His investment will play a pivotal role in shaping and enhancing our competitive excellence across the board for Ole Miss student-athletes.”

In his spare time, Payne enjoys spending time with his wife, Jennifer, and children Ford, 9, Arden, 6, and Duke, 2.

Five years ago, he and his dad began a mission to see a game in every SEC football stadium. “Ole Miss has really been our conduit to accomplish most of that, and it’s been a great way for us to share that together,” Payne said. “We’ve got one stadium to go.”

For more information on supporting Ole Miss Athletics, visit or contact Fowler Staines, chief executive officer and chief financial officer of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation, at 662-915-1143 or

Lee Family’s gift will benefit Ole Miss student athletes

By | Donor Support, Forward Together

Dr. Spencer Lee and his extended family have come and gone from the University of Mississippi over four generations, but the Lee name will soon be a permanent fixture on the Oxford campus. Lee, a retired dentist from Pickwick Lake, Tennessee, and his wife, Rebecca, recently made a $250,000 gift to the Forward Together campaign for Ole Miss Athletics, which bolsters facilities and programs for student-athletes. In recognition, the Lee name will be added to the Gate 9 entrance of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

“All our parents were graduates of Ole Miss; thus we have always been Rebel fans and have enjoyed many fall days in the Grove with family and friends before and after ballgames,” said Lee, who attended UM’s pre-dental program until 1965; he completed his degree in 1969 at the University of Tennessee. “We’ve also had four children graduate from Ole Miss along with several of their spouses,” he continued, adding their grandson — also named Spencer Lee — is a senior in the UM School of Engineering. “Needless to say, we all enjoy Ole Miss athletics and our gift represents our support for Rebel sports.”

Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics Keith Carter expressed gratitude to the Lee family whose name is as much a part of the University of Mississippi as the gate on which it will reside. “Gifts like these are inspiring to others who may be considering whether the timing is right to give back to Ole Miss. Other potential donors will see Dr. Lee leading the way toward increased support and hopefully feel that they want to contribute too,” Carter said. “We are extremely grateful for the Lees’ support and their desire to see our student-athletes succeed in their particular sports, in the classroom and in life beyond college.”

Lee retired in 2015 after 46 years of practicing dentistry in Corinth, Mississippi. During his career, he was active in leading many professional organizations, including the American Dental Association, serving in 1999 as president of the Mississippi Dental Association and the University of Tennessee Dental Alumni Association and Board of Trustees. He is a past president of the First District Dental Society and Corinth Dental Society. He was secretary of the Mississippi State Board of Dental Examiners and active in the American Association of Dental Examiners and Southeast Regional Association of Dental Deans and Examiners. A member of the Pierre Fauchard Academy and Fellow of the American College of Dentistry, Lee attended every state meeting of the Mississippi Dental Association from 1969 to 2005 as well as numerous other association meetings, conventions and continuing education programs. He also has written several articles for the Mississippi Dental Association Journal.

Rebecca Ramer Lee earned a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in library science from Ole Miss in 1972 and 1975 respectively. She retired after 40 years as a librarian and teacher with the Corinth School System.

When they’re not watching Rebels play, the Lees enjoy traveling and spending time on their boat at Pickwick Lake.

The Lees’ gift is part of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation’s drive to honor donors with naming opportunities for each entrance gate at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. “The gate naming initiative will play an integral role in completing the $200 million Forward Together campaign,” said Fowler Staines, chief executive officer of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation. “With $185 million raised toward a multitude of capital projects, the final phase of the campaign saw the opening of the William F. Galtney Indoor Tennis Center and completed renovations to the Tosh Family Short Course and Oxford-University Stadium.”

Naming opportunities remain available in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for the grand gates at the north, east and west entrances as well as a limited number of individual gates.

For more information about the Forward Together campaign or the gate naming initiative, visit or contact Fowler Staines, chief executive officer of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation, at 662-915-1143 or

Renovated Complex Brings Renewed Spirit To Ole Miss Track & Field Program

By | Facility Upgrades, Forward Together

$7.2 Million Complex Completed in September

By Scarlett Fox

The term “blessing in disguise” is one that can be applied to the challenges the Ole Miss track and field program has faced these past two-and-a-half years.

After announcing its closing in April 2014 due to cavities discovered under the track surface, the Ole Miss Track and Field Complex has now reopened, and is entering into a new era. With a new coaching staff that has concluded its first year with record-shattering team and individual performances, there was much to be recognized at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 9 in honor of the $7.2 million renovations to the facility.

“We have, really, a renewed spirit around our track and field program,” said Athletics Director Ross Bjork at the ceremony.

Those are the perfect words to describe the momentum that has been generated by a team returning from a historic year under the direction of head coach Connie Price-Smith, who also led the United States women to a record-setting showing as their head coach at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Beginning in the fall of 2014, the men’s cross country team won its first ever NCAA South Region title, followed by its first two appearances at the NCAA Cross Country Championship in 2014 and 2015. On the women’s side, the team walked away from the 2015 SEC Championship with a fifth-place finish that tied them for the second-best in program history.

If cross country was not a big enough indicator of the upward direction the program was taking, the men’s distance medley team won three straight SEC indoor titles from 2014-16. Last season, Ole Miss tied for its highest SEC men’s indoor finish in school history (third) and the Rebels’ six total indoor All-Americans tied the school record. This was all capped by senior Ryan Walling winning the Cliff Harper trophy for scoring the most points at the conference meet.

It was more of the same during the outdoor season. The men tied for their second-best SEC outdoor finish in school history (fifth) last year. The women earned their second ever top-25 NCAA outdoor team finish (T-22nd) and helped the Rebels walk away with a school-record total of 13 All-Americans combining the men and women.

Since following Price-Smith from Southern Illinois University to Ole Miss, Raven Saunders has led the charge for the women. Along with claiming a title in the shot put at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, she also won the SEC Commissioner’s trophy for scoring the most points at the outdoor conference meet, broke the all-time NCAA indoor and outdoor records in the shot put and punched her ticket to Rio along with volunteer assistant coach Gwen Berry, who competed in the hammer throw.

“After last season where it was kind of a transition period, everyone was kind of, OK, we’re going to see how it works. But now I feel like all of my teammates, and even myself included, are so much more motivated to be better as athletes,” said Saunders at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Along with a brand new throwing area at the south end of the complex and the addition of a Daktronics videoboard that measures 37 feet, 6 inches by 26 feet, 8 inches, the track itself also has a top-of-the-line surface (Beynon Sports Surfaces 2000 full pour polyurethane running surface with hobart texture) featured at many of the best NCAA programs and Olympic-level tracks around the country.

“I think that it’s done a lot to bring the team together already,” said coordinator of operations Sasha Leeth.

Price-Smith also expressed her excitement, not only about the convenience of the new track, but the ability to host the first Ole Miss home meet since the 2014 spring season. With the first home meet dates set for March 24-25, fans can expect to be able to watch college track and field at its best.

“They haven’t gotten to see a track meet here in a while, so I think it’s going to be exciting,” said Price-Smith. “The teams coming in will be good quality, so I think it’s going to be a great meet.”

Fans can also look forward to a second home meet to be held May 6, just before the SEC Outdoor Championships. It will be a special weekend when the team will honor its seniors for their hard work and dedication to the program.

Athletics Foundation Announces Record-Breaking Year

By | Donor Support, Facility Upgrades, Forward Together

Ole Miss Athletics Foundation Raises $45.6 Million over the Past Fiscal Year

By Adam Kuffner

OXFORD, Miss. – The Ole Miss Athletics Foundation is pleased to announce $45.6 million in cash contributions, a new record, from donors in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2016. The annual contributions break the previous high of $35.2 million in cash donations set the previous fiscal year. Cash giving in the two years prior to that was $27.4 million in 2014 and $26.0 million in 2013, bringing the total cash contributed in the last four years to $134.2 million.

The Ole Miss Athletics Foundation is comprised of members who make a donation to support Ole Miss Athletics. Along with the increase in cash donations, the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation has grown as well, now consisting of 17,773 members and counting.

“On behalf of Ole Miss Athletics, including our coaches and our talented student-athletes, I would like to thank Rebel Nation for their generous contributions over the past year that set a new standard in fundraising,” said Ole Miss Athletics Director Ross Bjork. “The Ole Miss Family continues to grow, and the support allows us to continue giving Rebels the highest quality student-athlete experience.”
The record-breaking year would not have been possible without several outstanding gifts. The Foundation has expressed its sincere gratitude to C Spire, FedEx Corporation, Dr. Gerald Hollingsworth, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Jordan, the Ole Miss M-Club Alumni Chapter, the Trehern Charitable Foundation, an anonymous member and many others who have made significant contributions.

In November, Dr. Hollingsworth made a $25 million commitment to Ole Miss Athletics composed of $10 million in current year cash and the remaining $15 million deferred, including an $11 million funded trust as part of an estate plan. This total commitment is the single largest gift ever received by the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation. The $10 million current year portion of Dr. Hollingsworth’s donation will be used to support the north end zone expansion of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, where the playing field already bears his name.

Comprised of Ole Miss Athletics Foundation membership and priority seating donations, annual giving represented $22.2 million (48.7 percent) of the $45.6 million in cash gifts, an increase of $6.6 million from last year.

The Vaught Society received a major increase in cash donations for Ole Miss Athletics, up $10.2 million from last year for a total of $18.2 million this fiscal year. The Vaught Society started with 29 original charter members in 2010 and currently has 388 members who make pledges of $25,000 or greater over the course of five years. Along with cash donations raised by the Vaught Society, $4.0 million was donated through Forward Together Capital Gift Agreements.

“Once again we are amazed by the remarkable generosity of the Ole Miss Family,” noted Keith Carter, Senior Associate A.D. for Development/Athletics Foundation Executive Director. “We continue to ask our dedicated and passionate supporters each year to provide essential resources in our pursuit of excellence.  This year, just like the ones before, they have answered the call.  On behalf of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation, we thank you for helping Ole Miss Athletics compete and win championships at the highest level.”

Leading the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation to another record-breaking year, Carter was named the 2016 National Association of Athletic Development Directors (NAADD) Fundraiser of the Year in the industry.

In addition, the Forward Together campaign has now topped $167.5 million in commitments with $30 million in new gifts pledged in the fiscal year. The Foundation reached the original goal of $150 million for the Forward Together campaign during 2016 and raised the goal to $200 million. With $32.5 million remaining, the new mark is anticipated to be met by June 2017.

As part of the $200 million Forward Together campaign, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is receiving major upgrades for the 2016 season. The north end zone bowl has been enclosed to bring the stadium’s capacity to just over 64,000, a new club in the south end zone has been constructed on field level and the playing field has been transformed to a natural grass surface. New videoboards, a new audio/video system and new lighting are being installed as well. A plaza and letterwinner walk, with a featured bell tower, outside of the north end of the stadium, are planned for finish in late fall. The football practice fields are also undergoing renovations, including a new artificial turf field, among other additions nearing completion.

The track and field complex resurface and renovations will also be completed in the coming days. The Gillom Sports Center began major construction in early summer to include new weight and training rooms, team meeting rooms, playing courts, locker rooms, offices and other team space for softball, soccer, volleyball and rifle teams, with expected completion in spring 2017.

Oxford-University Stadium will begin undergoing renovations this year with the new Trehern Performance Center for the baseball team and a new club area behind home plate. Athletics will also begin work this fall on an indoor tennis facility that will hold six indoor tennis courts.

Ole Miss Athletics is grateful to the many donors, ticket holders and fans that enable our projects for student-athletes to be successful.

For more information on the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation and the Forward Together campaign, please visit or call the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation at 662-915-7159.

Lloyd Family Supports Stadium Expansion With Gift

By | Donor Support, Facility Upgrades, Forward Together
By Bill Dabney

Ole Miss football fans are accustomed to the cacophony of sounds in the Grove on game day – the chatter of classmates reuniting, the laughter of children playing catch, the rousing horns and drums of the Pride of the South, the cheers as Rebels parade along the Walk of Champions – but in the 2017 season and beyond, one sound will be heard over all others: chimes.

“Our hope is that the bell tower can be seen and its chimes heard from one end of campus to the other,” said Bob Lloyd of Jackson, Mississippi. To support the construction of a stately new bell tower in the north end zone of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Lloyd, his brothers Ted and Ben, and their late father William B. “Cosmo” Lloyd have committed $1.3 million to the Forward Together campaign for Ole Miss Athletics.

The tower is expected to be finished by early spring and dedicated during the Rebels’ spring game weekend. At more than 60 feet tall, it will be the focal point when walking from the Grove to Vaught Hemingway’s North End Zone Plaza along the new Gertrude C. Ford Way. The game day Walk of Champions will culminate with players walking through the Lloyd Bell Tower. “On game day, the special tone of the Rebel bell will signal game time — time to take that jovial Grove attitude and bring that energy to the Vaught with a swagger and confidence that says, ‘This is our day and our house!’” said Lloyd, a 1983 graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Business Administration.

Lloyd presented the bell tower idea to the university in 2010, having been aware of traditions surrounding similar structures at other schools. About a year later, he received a call from Matt Mossberg, a development officer for Ole Miss Athletics, saying the tower would be an outstanding addition to the Vaught’s north end zone expansion project.

“We really like this and are grateful to the Lloyds for helping to bring the idea to fruition,” said Mossberg, adding that the bell tower is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2017 spring game. “The Lloyds want to be part of the fabric of Ole Miss Athletics forever and we believe having this bell tower, which will bear their family name, is an impactful way to accomplish that. It will stand right in the middle of the pedestrian space of the Letter Winner’s Plaza, right in the foot print of the stadium. We can see fans rallying around the tower and hopefully starting a few new traditions in support of the Rebels.”

New traditions could include bathing the tower in red light and ringing the chimes every time the Rebels win a sporting event or having a Hotty Toddy celebrity ring the bell before asking fans the renowned game-launching question, “Are you ready?!”

“This is about creating an experience that gives recruits chill bumps when Ole Miss comes onto the field,” Lloyd said. “Ole Miss needs a variety of factors that give us a unique edge to recruit against other SEC schools.”

Additionally, the Lloyds hope the bell tower will serve as a representative of achievement university-wide. “We would like the bell to ring loud and proud for each and everything positive Ole Miss, such as a new Rhodes Scholar, a women’s volleyball victory, a professor being named best in the SEC, a new recruit commit, alumni being honored – any positive event that Ole Miss wants to celebrate,” said Ted Lloyd of Jackson, a 1976 graduate of the UM School of Business Administration.

“The utilization of the bell tower can be one of those advantages that ingrain Ole Miss into our future students and athletes. It’s intended to be a symbol to rally around — a new beginning that the entire Ole Miss family can love and embrace without regard to race, gender, age or social status,” Bob Lloyd said. “It’s to help facilitate the eternal love for Ole Miss that exists in almost every student who has ever stepped foot on campus.”

The Lloyds, who grew up playing catch in the Grove and still tailgate in the same spot each year, hope their gift to the Forward Together campaign will help Ole Miss Athletics continue to build a powerhouse program. “We hope it will provide one small piece of the puzzle that helps Ole Miss become the Cinderella story of college football and win a national championship again,” Bob Lloyd said. “We believe if you don’t dream and strive for what you really want, you will never achieve the goal.”

It’s what their father would have wanted. “Bob, the driving force behind the bell tower project, suggested naming the Lloyd Family Bell Tower in honor of Cosmo, our dad, whose love, loyalty and dedication to Ole Miss was unmatched and never questioned,” Ted Lloyd said. “Dad always said, ‘If a recruit didn’t feel the love for Ole Miss then best he or she go somewhere else; we want student-athletes who want to be here.’  Cosmo loved and supported the idea of a bell tower from the first mention of it and its purpose.”

A 1974 graduate of the UM School of Business, Ben Lloyd of Oxford, Mississippi, agrees with his brother: “Cos would be very happy and very proud with the bell tower because he loved Ole Miss so much.  And he knew that he instilled his love and passion for his alma mater in his sons. He would be honored that his family could make such an important and permanent contribution to the campus.”

The bell tower will also be dedicated to the memory of Scott Keller Lloyd, Ted Lloyd’s son who was killed at age 16 in a 2008 automobile accident. “There was no doubt, none, that he was a great Rebel fan and would have been a great Ole Miss student and loyal alumnus if not for one tragic mistake,” Ted Lloyd said.

The $150 million Forward Together campaign was launched in 2011 to strengthen Ole Miss Athletics in its continuous commitment to excellence. With the help of 3,425 donors, the ambitious campaign surpassed its original goal in November 2015, raising $155 million. Currently, Forward Together has surpassed $165 million on its way to a new goal of $200 million.

The campaign conceptualized 10 to 14 capital projects, including the gleaming Pavilion at Ole Miss – a $95 million arena that seats approximately 9,500 fans for basketball games, concerts and other events.

The Ole Miss Athletics Foundation recently announced its next phase of projects that will include renovating the Oxford-University Baseball Stadium and building an indoor baseball performance center, as well as upgrading the FedEx Student-Athlete Success Center, Gillom Sports Center, Ole Miss Track and Field Complex, Starnes Athletic Training Center, football practice fields, and a new indoor tennis facility.

To learn more about the Forward Together campaign for Ole Miss Athletics, contact Keith Carter, senior associate athletics director for development and executive director of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation, at or call 662-915-7159.

Updates Announced For Baseball Renovations

By | Donor Support, Facility Upgrades, Forward Together

Ed and Jan Trehern Make Major Contribution

OXFORD, Miss. – In February 2016, Ole Miss Athletics announced plans for a $13 million baseball project that will enhance the student-athlete experience as well as the gameday atmosphere for Rebel fans. There will be multiple phases to the renovations with the goal for entire project be completed by the start of the 2018 season. The project will include the construction of a team performance center, dugout club and rooftop plaza on the first base side of the stadium.

Cooke Douglass Farr Lemons Architects (CDFL Sports) has been chosen as the architect for the project. This will not be CDFL’s first project on campus as the architectural group has already worked on the expansion of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the lighting of the football practice field as well as the design of the Olivia and Arching Manning Athletics Performance Center.

“Once again, we are happy to partner with CDFL Sports to complete another expansion and renovation project within our athletics complex,” said Ole Miss Athletics Director Ross Bjork. “CDFL has done tremendous work at Ole Miss and has helped make our athletic facilities among the best in the country. We are excited with the plans they have in place for the new baseball performance center and upgrades to Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field.”

Ole Miss continues to upgrade facilities in order to fulfill the needs of its student-athletes. Members of the Ole Miss baseball team will see this first hand with the construction of a new performance center at O-U Stadium. Behind a generous lead gift by Ed and Jan Trehern, the baseball performance center will feature a new clubhouse, training room, weight room and players’ lounge. The O-U Stadium addition will be built on the first base side of the facility, meaning the Rebels will switch dugouts after the completion of the project.

“The Trehern family and its foundation are very excited to be a part of this new era of facilities for Ole Miss Baseball,” said Ed Trehern. “Ole Miss has become a national pacesetter for facilities and crowds in baseball. The baseball facilities are very good now, but it is time to go to the next level because the competition is not sitting quietly. Baseball has become one of the trademarks for Ole Miss Athletics. We hope our gift will encourage others to support and give what you can to keep Ole Miss at the top.”

Already having the best atmosphere in college baseball, O-U Stadium will see the gameday experience reach new heights for Ole Miss fans. Similar to the field club going in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and the courtside club in The Pavilion at Ole Miss, a dugout club will be a new feature to O-U Stadium. The exclusive club will have 330 seats and give fans a look at the Rebels as they leave the clubhouse and head to the field. As part of the dugout club, four rows of box seats will be added behind home plate, thus improving the best seats in the stadium and allowing fans closer access to the action.

As part of the $1.5 million donation by the M-Club towards the Forward Together campaign, a rooftop plaza will be built above the performance center. The plaza will be exclusive to baseball letterwinners, M-Club members and season ticket holders with seats in the newly created area.

Other parts of the project include the extension of the box seats down the third base line, the relocation of the children’s playground with improvements to it as well as the left field terrace. The additional seating throughout the stadium will increase stadium capacity from 10,323 to 10,715.

Fundraising has already begun for the upgrades and renovations. Along with the lead gift by Trehern’s and the commitment from the M-Club, head coach Mike Bianco has already financially contributed to the project.

“On behalf of the Ole Miss Baseball program, we are extremely grateful for the generous contributions by the Trehern family and the M-Club towards the renovations to O-U Stadium and the addition of our own team performance center,” said Bianco. “With the valuable gift from Ed and Jan Trehern, the opportunity to build the best college baseball performance facility in the country has now become a reality.”

“Some great people/players have been involved with Ole Miss Baseball such as our great friend Don Kessinger. Coach Bianco has done and continues to do a great job, and many coaches use Ole Miss as the model program,” added Trehern. “One of our daughters was a Diamond Girl, and we have been very close to the program for a number of years. We are blessed to be able to make another investment in the program and facilities here at Ole Miss. We know we are recruiting the best players in the country and to win these battles we cannot come up short as it relates to facilities.”

To donate towards the Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field project, please visit or contact the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation (662-915-7159).

McCommons Provide Major Gift to Ole Miss Athletics

By | Donor Support, Forward Together

John and Donna McCommon, who recently made a $250,000 gift to the Forward Together campaign for Ole Miss Athletics, may not be University of Mississippi graduates but they definitely share a passion for the Rebels. One of the couple’s first dates was to an Ole Miss football game in Memphis, but both enjoyed the beauty of the university and its sports long before they met. “When Donna was in high school, she attended several cheerleading camps and fell in love with Ole Miss and the campus then,” John McCommon said. “When I lived in Clarksdale, Bobby Franklin (the 1959 Sugar Bowl winning Rebel quarterback) lived on the same street. His younger brother, Larry, was a friend. I guess I became a Rebel fan because of that and because I marched in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium as an eighth grader in the Clarksdale band. I fell in love with Oxford and Ole Miss early in life.”

The McCommons, who enjoy Ole Miss football, basketball and baseball, visit campus as often as possible. They contribute to the band every year and have supported Ole Miss Athletics in a number of other ways, including their contributions to the Freeze Foundation – an organization established in 2015 by Head Football Coach Hugh Freeze and his family to help orphaned children worldwide.

“Our giving to Ole Miss Athletics started very small and has increased over time due to our love of Ole Miss sports, mainly football,” John McCommon said. “It has grown over the years to the point that it is meaningful and we love what Ole Miss has done with our giving along with that of others.”

Additionally, the McCommons contributed $25,000 to the Jake Gibbs Letterwinner Walk Project, new construction at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium that will pay tribute to student-athletes and will also be part of an extended Walk of Champions. Additionally, the McCommons, who own one of the nation’s largest charter bus companies, have committed to provide $125,000 in transportation to support Freeze’s recruiting efforts.

Their most recent gift will help support future capital projects, said Keith Carter, senior associate athletics director for development and executive director of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation. “We are so thankful for generous Rebel fans like John and Donna McCommon who love to support our programs. Their contributions significantly improve our ability to be competitive,” Carter said. “The McCommons have been hugely supportive of Ole Miss Athletics. We are extremely grateful to them and feel honored to know them.”

The $150 million Forward Together campaign was launched in 2011 to strengthen Ole Miss Athletics in its continuous commitment to excellence. With the help of 3,425 donors, the ambitious campaign surpassed it original goal in November 2015, raising $155 million. The campaign conceptualized 10 to 14 capital projects, including the gleaming Pavilion at Ole Miss – a $95 million arena that seats approximately 9,500 fans for basketball games, concerts and other events.

The Ole Miss Athletics Foundation recently announced a $50 million stretch goal for its next phase of projects that will include renovating the Oxford-University Baseball Stadium and building an indoor baseball performance center, as well as upgrades to the FedEx Student-Athlete Success Center, Gillom Sports Center, Ole Miss Track and Field Complex, Starnes Athletic Training Center, football practice fields and a new indoor tennis facility. “We like what we see,” John McCommon said. “And, as we continue to give, we know that we will continue to see positive changes in athletics and in the lives of the student-athletes at Ole Miss.” The McCommons say they simply grew up Rebel fans.

Donna McCommon was born in Natchez, Mississippi, and was raised in Roxie, Mississippi, only a 30-minute drive from her birthplace. After graduating with a number of music degrees from Mississippi College, she worked at Pearl High School as choral director and director of fine arts before retiring from her 35-year career. She continues to be involved in the music business, judging and consulting as personal projects, and she is also an avid recreational photographer.

John McCommon, who enjoys golf and spending time with his grandchildren, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but spent most of his childhood in Clarksdale and Jackson, Mississippi, and attended high school in Whitehaven, Tennessee. After attending the University of Memphis (then Memphis State University), he held a number of different positions in car and truck rental and leasing as well as publishing. His current business, Cline Tours, Inc., operates a fleet of more than 150 buses from locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.

To learn more about the Vaught Society and how it supports the Forward Together campaign, contact Keith Carter at or call 662-915-7159.

Forward Together Campaign Exceeds Goal, Announces Extension

By | Donor Support, Facility Upgrades, Forward Together

Nov. 18, 2015

OXFORD, Miss. – Thanks to the generous support of Rebel Nation, the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation has surpassed its $150 million goal for the Forward Together campaign. With the help of 3,425 donors, the Forward Together campaign achieved its goal in just over a four-year span, raising $155 million.

“On behalf of Ole Miss Athletics, I want to thank everyone in the Ole Miss family and beyond who have made a contribution towards the Forward Together campaign and helping us not only reach our $150 million goal, but surpass it sooner than expected,” said Ole Miss Director of Athletics Ross Bjork. “When I arrived, I stated that we must ‘pull the rope in the same direction because you love our student-athletes,’ so I appreciate everyone who has become a follower of this approach.”

“In addition, we have the best fund raising staff in the country and their hard work has not gone unnoticed throughout our campaign. The generosity by Rebel Nation allows us to keep improving our athletics facilities and enhance the student-athlete and fan experience at Ole Miss. We will all be challenged with our new goal of $200 million, but we will continue to work with maximum effort to achieve goals on and off the field and move forward together as family.”

The Forward Together campaign started in August 2011 and raised $25 million in its first month. One year into the process, the campaign reached $75 million in gifts before surpassing $110 million in May 2014. Today’s total of $155 million is the result of $56 million in philanthropic giving and $99 million in donations related to priority seating. Three hundred of the Vaught Society’s 375 active members have contributed to the Forward Together campaign, including 13 philanthropic gifts at the $1 million-and-above level.

“We are always amazed to see how generous Rebel Nation can be, and we look forward to seeing this excitement continue as we move ahead to reach our new goal,” said Keith Carter, Ole Miss senior associate athletics director for development/Athletics Foundation executive director. “Not only is the Forward Together campaign providing top-quality experiences and resources to be successful for our student-athletes, but it is also giving our fans the best gameday atmospheres in the country.”

As part of the Forward Together campaign, multiple projects have either been completed or are underway. The Manning Center, the spectacular indoor practice facility, finished renovation in the spring of 2014. Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is in the midst of a facelift that will provide Rebel fans with an even greater gameday atmosphere along with additional seating. Thirty luxury suites and 870 club seats were added to the south end zone, and the west skyboxes were renovated before the 2015 season.

With the campaign reaching its goal, Vaught-Hemingway will see more improvements next season. The north side of the stadium will be transformed into an exciting new “front door,” complete with a plaza and bell tower. The Walk of Champions will extend from the Grove to the plaza, which will include the new Jake Gibbs Letterwinner Walk. The series of columns will feature the names of every student-athlete who has earned a varsity letter at the University of Mississippi, dating back to the first football team in 1893. Closing in the north end zone will bring stadium seating above 64,000. Finally, new videoboards along with improved audio systems will be ready for the 2016 season.

The Forward Together campaign also brought the concept of The Pavilion at Ole Miss to fruition. The $95 million state-of-the-art arena will seat roughly 9,500 fans for Rebel basketball games and a variety of other events. The Pavilion at Ole Miss will open its doors Jan. 7, when the Rebels host Alabama.

Looking to continue the momentum and success of the Forward Together campaign, the Athletics Foundation announces a $50 million stretch goal for the next phase of projects. These projects will include renovations of the following facilities: FedEx Student-Athlete Success Center, Gillom Sports Center, Ole Miss Track and Field Complex, Starnes Athletic Training Center, football practice fields and a new indoor tennis facility.

Along with upgrades to each of those athletics facilities, additional enhancements to Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field will improve different sections of the facility to benefit the team and its fans. More details regarding this project will be announced in the future.

As part of the next phase, $35 million of the $200 million goal will go towards current capital project costs and $15 million toward a capital investment fund to continuously maintain and improve all Ole Miss athletics facilities.

About Ole Miss Athletics Foundation

The Ole Miss Athletics Foundation is the fundraising department of Ole Miss Athletics and provides resources for student-athletes through scholarships, facilities, coaches’ compensation and other areas of the programs. For more information about the foundation and its initiatives, visit or call 662-915-7159.