John Menard Loves Universities
With conditions. They get donations. He gets recognition and an honorary degree.
It was was called a “doctorate of humane letters,” but there are some who would not necessarily think of Menard as a humanitarian. A successful businessman, yes: Menard’s is one of the biggest home improvement chains in the nation, with 325 stores and 41 manufacturing facilities located in 14 Midwestern states, and an advertising jingle, “Save big money at Menard’s,” we all probably know by heart.
All of which has helped Menard become one of the richest people on earth with a net worth of $18.5 billion, according to Bloomberg.
UW-Eau Claire, in awarding its degree, took note of Menard’s “status as one of Wisconsin’s leading entrepreneurs; his decades of donations to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation and community projects such as the new YMCA indoor tennis center and Mayo Clinic Health System’s emergency medicine facility” both in Eau Claire and “both named in his honor.”
Getting things named in his honor has become a specialty of Menard. In September 2019, Menard and his family gave $2.1 million to the UW-La Crosse business college, the largest gift in the school’s 110-year history, as the LaCrosse Tribune reported. The university, in turn, has created the The Menard Family Midwest Initiative for Economic Engagement and Research, which will use the donated money to support scholarships, research projects and other hands-on learning opportunities for business students.
Three months later, in December 2019, UW-Stout announced that Menard and his family would donate $2.36 million donation to the Stout University Foundation to expand the Center for Study of Institutions and Innovation.
But its name will now be changed to the Menard Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovation.
In September 2020, Menard donated $3 million to UW-Eau Claire to fund the school’s Center for Constitutional Studies, which the university in turn has renamed as the Menard Center for Constitutional Studies.
This center, too, has received funding from the Charles Koch Foundation, but only Menard’s name will be attached to this august center.
All told, Menard has spent well less than 1% of his total wealth to get his name emblazoned on three different fancy sounding university centers and beat out Charles Koch both times in getting that recognition. No doubt there are many other universities lining up to offer a similar deal.