When John Pappajohn took the podium at the IMU Main Lounge last Friday, he was greeted with a raucous round of applause from the standing-room-only crowd, and he opened with a self-deprecating joke about Taylor Swift.
“Are you sure you’re all in the right place? Taylor Swift played in Des Moines last night!” he quipped.
Then he clarified, “No, I don’t own Papa John’s pizza, and I don’t have any free pizza coupons for you today—but I do have a surprise for you later on.”
A leading philanthropist and nationally celebrated entrepreneur and business leader, Pappajohn is a 1952 graduate of the University of Iowa, and he received an honorary doctorate from the UI in 2010. He and his wife, Mary, have contributed millions of dollars to state, educational, and fine-arts endeavors in Iowa and beyond. Among the Pappajohns’ many significant UI contributions include naming gifts for the Pappajohn Business Building, the Pappajohn Pavilion at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the John and Mary Pappajohn Clinical Cancer Center, the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, and the new Pappajohn Biomedical Institute in the John and Mary Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building.
If having his name on buildings and resource centers all over the UI campus wasn’t enough to endear Pappajohn to UI students, by the end of his “Life With Phil” talk, sponsored by the University of Iowa Foundation, he had made new friends among nearly 700 students who attended.
“Phil for a Day” results:
Envelopes distributed to students: 667
Envelopes returned by students: 646
Percentage returned: 97
Gift designations from students (total of $6,460):
Children’s Hospital: 36%
Arts campus: 6%
An adept storyteller, Pappajohn kept the roomful of faculty, staff, students, and UI dignitaries engaged with stories of growing up in a Greek immigrant family during the Great Depression, sharing resources in times of great poverty, taking kindergarten twice, working his way through college at Brady’s grocery store (he’s a proficient butcher), and calling himself “the opportunity kid.”
At every point, he emphasized the importance of sharing what you have and the satisfaction of being a philanthropist.
“You have to learn to share, you have to learn to give. It makes you feel good,” he said. “Once you start giving, you get addicted to it.”
He asked audience members to raise their hands if they would like to be philanthropists, and almost every hand in the room shot up.
Then Pappajohn gave students in attendance the opportunity to experience that good feeling—by giving each one a $10 bill and encouraging them to donate it back to the University of Iowa cause that they care most about.
Not only that, but he issued a challenge to students.
He offered, “If you will give 10 bucks each year for the next four years, I’ll match it.”
UI Foundation President and CEO Lynette Marshall said, “We were honored to welcome John Pappajohn back to campus for this very special visit, and delighted with his ‘Phil for a Day’ idea. We are so grateful to Mr. Pappajohn for giving students access to the wonderful feeling of being a philanthropist. Pappajohn began by giving back $5 to the UI in 1962, and each donor to the UI—even our most generous benefactors—begin with a single gift. He has helped create the next generation of University of Iowa philanthropists.”
About the University of Iowa Foundation
The University of Iowa Foundation’s mission is to advance the UI and fulfill the aspirations of those it serves. The university’s dedicated contributors fund a broad array of needs, from student scholarships, breakthrough research, and life-changing health care to innovative facilities, community outreach, and global education.
The UI and UI Foundation are conducting a historic comprehensive $1.7 billion fundraising campaign, For Iowa. Forever More: The Campaign for the University of Iowa, which will secure the UI’s status as a world-class institution for future generations.
The UI Foundation is the preferred channel for private contributions that benefit all areas of the University of Iowa. For more information about the foundation and the campaign, visit the Foundation website.