Mayers Leave Another Mark on Wayland, Plainview

PLAINVIEW – On every college campus, there are buildings bearing the names of individuals who have either provided funding for those facilities or who were honored by the naming of the building.

At Wayland Baptist University, James and Eva Mayer are common names on that list, though they have not been around to see their gifts add to the university’s landscape and service to students.

The most recent Mayer touch to the Plainview campus is the technology lab at the new Community Classroom, a 16-unit Dell lab equipped for teaching the latest office software and other programs. But that is just one place the Mayers have impacted through their foundation, formed in 1982 and managed by Plainview trustees Gene Owen, Paul Lyle and David Wilder, all strong Wayland supporters as well.

“Since 1988, Mayer Foundation has donated $800,000 to Wayland out of a total of $3.52 million donated over those years,” said Wilder while recently touring the new technology lab with Lyle. “This is hitting a real target and bringing people in that normally wouldn’t be here.”

In the computer class that day were adults from Hart, Sunnyside and other area cities, a fact Wilder said makes the gift fit the Mayer Foundation’s philosophies even better.

“We really treat this as a regional foundation and take care of the needs of our area first,” he said. “Probably 70-80 percent of our grants cover the area from Abilene to Amarillo, and about 70-75 percent of that is in Plainview.”

The foundation was established after Eva Mayer died in 1982. While she and husband James had lived in Philadelphia, Mrs. Mayer moved to Plainview in the early 1960s after her husband died in order to care for her mother, Elizabeth Hoyle. At the time, she hired Gene Owen – the son of late Wayland president Dr. A. Hope Owen – as her attorney.

Over the years, Owen and Mrs. Mayer visited often about her financial affairs and she expressed concern about what would become of her estate after her death. With no children or other heirs for which to provide, Owen said he suggested she set up a foundation to benefit others in the future.

While the Mayers had considerable wealth, Owen said few would have known it by Mrs. Mayer’s demeanor. According to Lyle, only her fashionable wardrobe spoke to the money she had.

“She was a very private person, and she lived in an apartment at the Hilton Hotel,” said Owen. “She played bridge and joined the women’s club. She was a very gracious, kind person, and was very interested in Plainview.”

Lyle said her interest in Plainview extended to Wayland, though she never attended a class at the university.

“She was a devoted supporter of Wayland,” he said. “She was a strong believer in education and wanted everyone to have a chance at education.”

Because of that, foundation trustees have made several grants not only to Wayland but also to other church-supported institutions in the state. At Wayland, Mayer Foundation has contributed to the Mabee Learning Resources Center, the Laney Student Activities Center, the drive outside Harral Auditorium and the Plainview 2000 Campaign in addition to the technology center.

Beyond the campus, the Mayer Foundation touch is evident as well.

“Wee Care Child Care Center was the first thing in Plainview that we funded, and we’ve contributed to the YMCA both in the original building and also to the recent renovation of the pool, and to the Fair Theatre,” Wilder said. “We pride ourselves on brick and mortar gifts, going toward capital projects and buildings.”

The three men agree that seeing the Mayer Foundation money go to help worthy causes around the South Plains and beyond has been rewarding, and they feel the Mayers would be pleased with how their estate has been able to touch lives.

Wilder said the foundation also likes to issue challenge grants, encouraging the support of other foundations in a fundraising project. There is no limit to the life of the foundation, and as long as the trio continues to manage the Mayers’ money well, the grants will continue.

“We’ve doubled the assets of the foundation and have actually given more than the original estate was worth,” Wilder said. “We expect it to go on for a long time.”

“It’s kind of like that battery ad,” Owen adds with a chuckle. “It just keeps on going.”

Lyle said managing the Mayer Foundation funds is a sacred duty in his eyes, one he and his fellow trustees take seriously.

“There’s a lot of sweating at times. You feel more responsibility for this than your own money. That’s what a trust means,” he said. “Every time we look at a grant, I try to think about Mrs. Mayer and wonder what she would think of the project, and we try to act as she would.”