When Oklahoma State University President David Schmidly announced the multi-million dollar donation by alumnus T. Boone Pickens Thursday morning, it came as a surprise to some -- but to those who know the oil tycoon well, it was simply a testament to his generosity.
"He's just a wonderful human being," said president emeritus James Halligan. "He's just a quintessential American success story. He never forgot where he came from -- he's a very humble individual."
Halligan, along with former OSU athletic director Terry Don Phillips -- now at Clemson University -- were spokes in the wheel that set the plan in motion for the renovations of Lewis Field. Phillips proposed a plan when he was at the helm of OSU athletics that involved upgrading athletic facilities around campus.
Phillips said he along with other key officials have been corresponding with Pickens for some time.
"We have been visiting with Boone a long time about the project," Phillips said. "To Harry (Birdwell's) credit, he kept everything moving forward, but one of the real keys was Mike Holder."
Holder, entering his 30th year as the OSU men's golf coach, has been a personal friend of Pickens' for more than three decades.
"They are very close -- and this is one of the great things about Mike Holder -- he really loves Oklahoma State, and certainly he wants golf to always be successful, but he wants every program to flourish, particularly football," Phillips said. "Mike has been working on this project for many, many years, and he got me involved on it and we worked together."
Phillips said if anyone deserves credit for securing the landmark $70 million donation from Pickens, it would be former OSU President Halligan.
After Halligan arrived at OSU in 1994, he immediately called Pickens and took an instant liking to him.
"I've had chili and cornbread with him for a new meal, and been to his ranch and his apartment in Dallas," Halligan said. "We've shared the agony of defeat and the glory of victory in the stadium and in basketball games."
Phillips, who left OSU for the Clemson post last July, said even though he has loyalties to a new school, he still keeps up with the progress of Cowboy athletics.
"I can't be any happier or any more pleased, I just need to find someone of like mind over here -- we're still looking," Phillips said jokingly. "They (OSU) are going to be able to take advantage of that window of opportunity that is wide open for them. They are going to be in position for success and what I believe will be very consistent success in the future."
Pickens' donation is the largest single gift contribution to OSU in its history and possibly in the state of Oklahoma. His donation could cause a snowball effect.
When people see someone like Pickens give back to his alma mater because of what it means to them, other people respond, Phillips said.
"I think you could say that there will be a chain reaction as far as large donations go," said Joe Muller, associate athletic director for development and athletic affairs. "Just today, we have been on the phone with a couple of distinguished alumni who have expressed interest in helping this project along, too."
Karsten Creek head golf pro Tom Jones, a personal acquaintance of Pickens, said he didn't know the specifics of the monetary gift until the media made it public.
"We have so few people that can make that kind of impact," Jones said. "You know, they've been working on him for a while. I don't even know who started talking to him about the stadium. I'm sure it was probably Terry Don because he was the one who came up with the concept and the dream. He probably got Halligan to go to talk to him also, just to add pressure and credibility. I'm sure those guys were after him pretty hard."
The donation secures that the renovations to the stadium will begin on schedule, making the OSU facility one among the elite.
"All you're ever asking for is a level playing field, for someone not to have an edge because then you've got a chance," Jones said.
Timing is an important element for staying competitive with other schools.
"I think it is very important because in the a history of a program, there are certain windows of opportunity that open," Phillips said. "With the Athletic Center coming on board and being the fantastic facility that it is and with the recent success that Coach Miles has brought to the football program, particularly in-state, I don't think you can disregard what that means to Oklahoma State."
Jared Janes also contributed to this story.