Donation Allows William Woods to Begin Work on Alumni/Visitor Center

During Alumni Weekend, William Woods University President Jahnae H. Barnett announced a generous donation that answers the question of where the president will live when her current home is converted into an alumni and visitors’ center.


Barnett said a member of the WWU board of trustees, Theresa Vonderschmitt, was so committed to the alumni and visitors’ center project that she donated a 15-acre country residence for the presidential home.


“This means I will have ‘a place to live,’” Barnett said with a smile, “and it allows us to begin renovation on the Tom and Claudine O’Connor Alumni and Visitors’ Center in the very near future.”


Vonderschmitt, a businesswoman, was elected to the board in 2004. She manages more than 50 limited partnerships and a portfolio of investments in more than 200 companies. She also serves as a member of the Board of Japan Communications, Inc., a mobile communications company based in Japan.


A native of Japan, Vonderschmitt divides her time between her homes in Jasper, Ind., and San Jose, Calif., with frequent trips to Japan. She has extensive management experience in the airline industry, including an18-year tenure with Pan American World Airways.


In addition to the spacious home, Vonderschmitt’s property in rural Callaway County includes three horse stalls and tack room, offering the potential for small equestrian activities and space for hosting events and receptions. This donation to the $11.7 million Imagine Campaign is valued at approximately $1 million.


The Tom and Claudine O’Connor Alumni and Visitors’ Center is intended to provide additional guest housing and meeting space on campus. The fundraising goal for the center is $500,000, and the O’Connors have already contributed $280,000. The center is one component of the three-part campaign. Also planned are a Sorority Circle and Amphitheatre and the academic program, Center for Ethics and Global Studies.   


Claudine Barrett Cox O’Connor graduated from William Woods in 1943 and served as a member of the board of trustees from 1954 to 1991. She was named to honorary status in 2003. She was alumni association president in 1951-52 and, over the years, has made substantial financial contributions to WWU.


She is the recipient of the Green Owl Award and the Distinguished Alumni Award and the President’s Medal. O’Connor earned B.A. and M.B.A. degrees from Drury College, and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Missouri. She taught at Drury and Southwest Missouri State University. She was also the portfolio manager and financial consultant for Cox Medical Center and several family corporations and trust funds.


Involved in numerous activities, she was the first chairman of the state-based National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. representative to the Luso-American Development Foundation in Portugal. She was also the alternate U.S. representative to the executive board of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).


Her husband, Tom O’Connor, was the recipient of the Order of the Owl Award from William Woods in 2009. This honor is given to a spouse who has shown a special interest in promoting and supporting the activities of the university. O’Connor was vice president of Bacardi Rum for 30 years.


The Tom and Claudine O’Connor Alumni and Visitors’ Center will provide additional guest housing, a university archival space, meeting rooms, a welcome center, and other amenities not presently available. The center would be immediately visible from the new Woods Way entrance on the northwest side of campus, “providing a beautiful, dramatic and welcoming portal to the university,” Barnett said.                                                      


“When visitors and alumni/supporters (WWU’s largest constituent group) come to campus, it is imperative that they feel welcomed. While some facilities and programs exist to provide for them, demand has increased sufficiently for the university to develop something more.”


According to Barnett, it is clear that more appropriate facilities would be an asset.


“With the generous support of alumni and friends, WWU will have the resources to provide lodging for visitors and alumni and create a showcase gathering space for the entire William Woods community—alumni, faculty, students, visitors and the surrounding community,” she said.




The current president’s home at William Woods University will be converted to the Tom and Claudine O’Connor Alumni and Visitors’ Center.


The center will be immediately visible from the new Woods Way entrance on the northwest side of campus.