C of I Newsletter

2008. 05. 26.

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The C of I joins Idaho in remembering J.R. Simplot

The College of Idaho President Bob Hoover joins the rest of the state in honoring and remembering J.R. Simplot, who served on the College’s Board of Trustees for more than 60 years, spoke at commencement for more than 50 years, and kept the College financially stable during hard times.

“J.R. Simplot was a significant force on our campus for several generations of students,” Hoover said. “Without his business acumen, his incredible generosity and his love of the College, we would not have the rich, 117-year heritage that we do today.”

Hoover recalled stories about trustee meetings where Simplot would pull out his checkbook to cover a debt for the College, “and he would challenge the other trustees to do the same.”

Idaho businessman Walt Minnick, who served on the College’s board of trustees with Simplot, posted the following to his campaign website (Minnick is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District):

“I served a dozen years on the board of The College of Idaho, and have fond memories of all that J.R. Simplot did to help the school get through some tough times. The school once threw a party for J.R. and for Joe Albertson, and the two of them spent the whole noon hour poking fun at each other and making jokes about who had really saved the school. The reality is that both of them saved that school.”

Simplot has been recognized in many ways by the College, including having two buildings named for him and receiving an honorary degree in 1961, but he was more than just a generous benefactor to the College.

He enjoyed interacting with the students and spoke at 51 commencements. He always included a signature line that was his advice to graduates, “Get a piece of land and hold onto it.”

Several of Simplot’s children and grandchildren graduated from the College. His daughter Gay graduated in 1968 and is a current member of the College’s Board of Trustees. His son Don is a 1958 graduate. Grandchildren Michael, Ted, Anne, and Laurie Careen Braun are also alumni.

Simplot’s wife Esther received an honorary degree in 2005, and Simplot was named an emeritus trustee in the 1990s, after serving on the board continuously since the 1940s.

The College of Idaho has two buildings named for Simplot – Simplot Residence Hall, which is currently being remodeled, and Simplot Dining Hall. The residence hall will be partially reopened this fall, and will be rededicated in January.

C of I Trustee Louie Attebery was Simplot’s biographer and published “J.R. Simplot, A Billion the Hard Way.” He said Simplot was a billionaire who knew hard, physical labor.

“He grew up on a farm. He got up early, could hitch a team and do the hard work of farming,” Attebery said. He noted that Simplot was dyslexic and struggled in school. “He dropped out, calling himself ‘dumb,’ and went to work sorting potatoes.”

Attebery called Simplot a genius. “He had an uncommon vision, was a one-world figure, an internationalist who believed that the world’s problems and the solutions were interconnected. And he was an uncommon supporter of The College of Idaho.”