Lorna and C. John Clarke celebrate USFSM with Rocky.

40th Anniversary in Focus: C. John Clarke champions local fundraising drive to close gap

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: April 26, 2016

Editor’s note: The story here is part of a series of 40 stories commemorating USF Sarasota-Manatee’s 40th anniversary this academic year. For more about USFSM’s history, please visit usfsm.edu/anniversary.

USF Sarasota-Manatee took a giant step in 2004 and 2005.

The state Legislature set aside $22 million for construction of USFSM’s new campus at the former Crosley Estate, including $14.7 million in 2004. Despite that windfall and previous allocations, another $6 million was needed to finish the building, as well as for landscaping, furniture, computers and other equipment.

The state, which purchased the land a dozen years earlier for $2 million, offered additional funding but only as a matching grant, meaning the campus needed to raise $3 million in private funds to complete the project.

Enter C. John A. Clarke, then-president and -chief executive officer of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc., the developer of Lakewood Ranch. Clarke enjoyed strong ties to the business community and served as a community advisor to USF when it was housed at New College of Florida.

Dr. Laurey Stryker, then-CEO of USFSM, asked Clarke to head a fundraising team comprised of business and community leaders including Clyde Nixon, chairman of Sun Hydraulics Corp.; Amy Drake, marketing director at Michael Saunders & Co.; Elizabeth “Liz” Lindsay, co-founder of The Women’s Exchange and former chair of the USFSM campus board; and local attorney H. Hamilton “Chip” Rice.

Alexis Upham, director of campus development, provided a master list of people and companies to contact while Clarke and the others relied on their business contacts. Within 18 months, the group had raised the money.

“We called and wrote letters. Mostly we tried to meet with donors personally, and their boards, to explain the importance of a university to our area to give training to young people,” Clarke said.

Many, including Nixon, Vernon Buchanan, Pat and Charlene Neal, Charles and Linda Baumann, and Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc. gave generously. Also helping was the matching grant. It meant a $100,000 donation could be turned into $200,000. By early 2006, the team had raised the necessary funds.

“We were lucky because the economy was building at the time,” said Clarke, adding he didn’t hesitate when Dr. Stryker sought his help, although he loathes fundraising.

“I jumped at it because I had sat in frustration prior to the campus even being designated, when it was at New College, and there was excitement that there was a real chance this could happen, that we could have our own campus,” he said.

“This was important to our community and to our young people so that they could get the training they needed and not go off to a university out of state where we would never see them again. We needed to keep them right here.”

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