The family behind the grant

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SMU celebrates the single largest grant in its history from the Meadows Foundation (Courtesy of smu.edu).
SMU celebrates the single largest grant in its history from the Meadows Foundation (Courtesy of smu.edu).

Though many Americans rarely see their distant relatives in their adult lives, Virginia Meadows Hanson travels more than 2,000 miles once a month to meet with a group of eight of her cousins. During one of the group’s most recent gatherings, a groundbreaking decision was made. It resulted in a $45 million grant to SMU, which is the single largest endowment in SMU’s history. And it’s all thanks to the history of this family.

Hanson is the great niece of Al Meadows, the man who began the Meadows family’s philanthropic legacy. After acquiring a large fortune from his oil and gas company, General American Oil Company of Texas, Meadows began the Meadows Foundation, which is dedicated to funding various charitable causes in Texas. The family name is also emblazoned on SMU’s nationally known Meadows School of the Arts.

“It was really important for him to do something with his wealth after he died,” said Hanson.

Hanson is currently serving as a member of the Board of Directors for the Dallas-based Meadows Foundation. The board is composed of members from every branch of the family as well as a local attorney, banker, and two citizens at large. The family members rotate on the board for different periods of time.

Hanson inherited her position on the board from her mother, Dorothy Wilson, who served when they decided how future board members would be chosen. She decided that each of her four children would serve for three-year terms, but gave the first term to Hanson.

“My children had always been interested in the Foundation as a result of the earlier family gatherings and were eager to suggest issues to be considered,” said Wilson.

Like her mother, Hanson has four children and will pass her position on the board down to them. One of her children, Miranda Hanson, is a senior at SMU studying English. She is also the former president of SMU Belle Tones, a vocal group that practices in the Owen Arts Center building in the Meadows school twice a week.

“Over the years I started realizing how outdated and run-down the rooms are compared to other schools on campus,” she said.

Brandon Carson, a junior percussion major at SMU, has had the majority of his classes in the Owen Arts Center and has had a difficult time finding spaces to practice.

“A lot of the facilities are very outdated and it’s gotten to the point that the symphony orchestra has grown so big that the space can’t hold it,” he said.

Deepa Liegel, a sophomore dance major, also feels there’s a need for updated facilities in the Owen Arts Center, specifically in the Bob Hope Theater where there are holes in the roof.

“At our last show a couple of weekends ago it started raining and there were puddles on the stage,” said Liegel.

When Miranda Hanson told her mom about the areas of disrepair in the Owen Arts Center, Virginia Hanson decided something needed to be done.

“There are so many visibly beautiful buildings on campus and I just thought, this has our name on it, so we need to take care of it,” said Virginia Hanson.

When she suggested the idea to the board and related her daughter’s ideas, she received enthusiastic support.

“My mom could have easily been shut down with this idea, but my whole family really came together and decided that we needed to do this,” said Miranda Hanson.

Virginia Hanson also served on the board ten years ago when they gave $33 million to the Meadows Museum. They had been planning on giving that same amount this year, but after Virginia Hanson expressed the need for refurbishing the Owen Arts Center, the board increased the contribution to $45 million.

“We didn’t want to take away from any of the other places we were funding such as the museum and the Edge for Excellence program,” said Virginia Hanson.

The spectrum of organizations funded by the Meadows Family Foundation ranges from mental health treatment to the environment. The Foundation gives between 13 and 18 grants per month to organizations exclusively based in Texas.

Peter Miller is one of Virginia Hanson’s cousins and is a current board member as well. Though he lives in St. Louis, Missouri, he too travels once a month to meet with the board and contribute his input.

“One of the unique things about Virginia and me is that neither of us are from Texas or live in Texas, and because the Foundation’s money only goes to programs in Texas I think our perspectives are different from a lot of the other board members,” he said.

Al Meadows’ vision and generosity have impacted the people of Texas in extraordinary ways. His family feels forever grateful for the opportunity he gave them to be board members of his foundation.

“What a gift our uncle gave us to have these experiences in which we are able to make a difference and give,” said Virginia Hanson.

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