Thomas P. "Pete" Wittmann admits he wasn't a star athlete during his days as a Southern Illinois University Carbondale student. But the experience taught him the importance of perseverance and teamwork, qualities he hopes to help instill in future student-athletes.
Wittmann, a native of Town and Country, Mo., contributed a $4.5 million gift - the largest private donation in the University's history - $3 million of which paid for a spacious, new high-tech training facility for intercollegiate student-athletes.
"This marks the first time a new facility on our campus was constructed entirely with private funds from a single donor," SIUC Chancellor Walter V. Wendler said. "The University relies on tuition, state dollars, grants and contracts, and private contributions like this one to build on our long-standing tradition of commitment to excellence. This very generous gift is a significant investment in our students."
The two-story, 10,000-square-foot addition to the north wing of Lingle Hall, which adjoins the SIU Arena, was completed in the fall of 2005.
The building bears the names of Wittmann, who insists on giving himself second billing, and his best friend from college, Kenny Troutt. The two met on McAndrew Stadium's football field and belonged to the Salukis' team in the late `60s. They went on to become roommates, fraternity brothers, incredibly successful business partners - and remain best friends today in Dallas.
Wittmann admits he personally lacked the prowess to become a Saluki standout. But he said participating in college sports sparked a doggedness that has spurred his success - first as crew chief for Troutt's basement water-proofing business, later overseeing massive tile installations in such places as St. Louis Centre and Barnes Hospital and finally as an early investor in a Troutt-founded telephone company, which mushroomed to become the nation's largest by 1997.
"Athletics has always been to me a very important part of life," Wittmann said. "And in sports, of course, you always want to win. But when you don't, athletics teaches you to strive to get better and better."
Wittmann said he hopes the new center will inspire a new crop of young men and women to set high standards and to develop the perseverance and grit necessary to attain them.
"I wasn't a great athlete," said Wittmann, "in fact, I warmed the bench most of the time. But belonging to the team gave me the drive and the desire to get better. I aim for that in all my work. I learned if you just keep on trying and keep on trying - you're going to come out OK."
The Troutt-Wittmann Academic and Training Center features a fitness center nearly three times larger than the previous facility available to intercollegiate athletes. The larger facility can accomodate more athletes at once and allow concurrent use by several teams.
Athletes can also find a mix of quiet areas in which to study and be tutored, along with high-speed internet hook-ups and a combination of traditional and modern educational resources, from books to study guides and computer labs.
"The future of Saluki Athletics is considerably brighter, thanks to the generosity of Pete and Elaine Wittmann," athletics director Paul Kowalczyk said. "Their gift will improve our ability to nurture and enhance both academic and athletic abilities of our student-athletes."