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The Power of Partnership

Herman and LaDonna Meinders. Image copyrighted by Mike Wimmer, www.mikewimmerportraits.com.

Herman and LaDonna Meinders' partnership with the university is transformational

On October 19, 1954, an 18-year-old LaDonna Jane Kramer arrived on the Oklahoma City University campus, and with blue ink, in neat, slanted handwriting, filled out her matriculation card to begin a decades-long relationship with the university.

A little less than two years later, another 18-year-old arrived on the OCU campus. It was July 19, 1956, and Herman Meinders, fresh from his hometown of Pipestone, Minnesota, was filling out his matriculation card.

Those pen strokes — perhaps inauspicious at the time — lay the foundation for likely the most significant, and easily the most prolific, partnership the university has ever known.

“Herman and LaDonna, in my opinion, are the king and queen of partnerships for and with OCU,” said Lois Salmeron, dean emerita of the Kramer School of Nursing. “Their contributions are the ultimate of giving and dedication to OCU.”

Nearly 70 years after they enrolled at OCU as teenagers, the Meinders’ partnership with the university has been far-reaching. The business school and the nursing school hold their family names. Numerous scholarships have been funded to allow students to attend OCU. Their example of philanthropy sparked other donors to give and help re-shape the campus.

Herman and LaDonna Meinders are now synonymous with OCU. The partnership between the two, however, didn’t begin in the summer of 1956 when Herman journeyed from Pipestone to Oklahoma City. That partnership took nearly 30 years to materialize, but the results have been transformational for the couple's alma mater.

Transformational impact

Although they attended school at the same time, Herman and LaDonna Meinders didn't meet while they were students at OCU. After leaving Pipestone in favor of Oklahoma City's warmer weather, Herman Meinders left OCU after one year, again moving south for a more hospitable climate.

He and a friend ventured to Lakeland, Florida, where Meinders planned to enroll at Florida Southern University. Finding work was difficult, however, and without funds to pay for tuition and housing, the plan for Florida Southern didn't materialize.

Meinders eventually landed a job in a grocery store, and later teamed up with the store manager to open a bar in Tampa, Florida. While that venture ultimately fizzled, Meinders had the fortune one evening of meeting a patron – a traveling floral directory salesman – who helped him secure a job as a salesman with the flower-by-wire service National Florist Directory.

From there, Meinders’ path was set. He became one of the best and most-successful floral directory salesmen in the country, and eventually parlayed his knowledge, skill and connections into his own company, American Floral Services, which he incorporated in Oklahoma City in 1970.

Herman and LaDonna Meinders view the Vietnam Women’s Memorial maquette by Glenna Goodacre during the new Kramer School of Nursing building dedication in 2011.

The company grew rapidly and steadily, and by the mid-1980s was the fastest-growing floral wire service in the world. After years of great success, and seeking to focus more on his family and philanthropy, Meinders sold the company in 1994 to a New York-based investment firm.

Ten years after the sale, thanks to an $18 million gift from Meinders to the university, the new Meinders School of Business building was dedicated on the OCU campus.

To date, Herman and LaDonna Meinders have contributed a total of nearly $40 million to Oklahoma City University.

"Herman’s well-documented success in the business world provided the platform for multi-million-dollar philanthropy,” former OCU President Tom McDaniel said. “For OCU, the impact of Meinders’ giving was transformational.”

Greatest partnership

While Meinders crisscrossed the country in the floral business, LaDonna Kramer was making a name for herself at OCU. In 1956, she was crowned Miss Oklahoma, and traveled to Atlantic City, New Jersey, for the annual Miss America competition. While at OCU, she became an accomplished pianist and sang in the university’s choir.

She graduated in 1958 with a bachelor’s degree in music and moved with her first husband to Kingfisher, where for years she taught piano and raised her four children. After a divorce in 1981, she took a job as a reporter and photographer for the Kingfisher County Chronicle. In 1983, she reached out to then-OCU President Jerald Walker about a job opening at the university.

Walker offered her the job of assistant director of graduate admissions. She would eventually earn her MBA from OCU, aided by the employee tuition remission program, and be promoted to director of alumni relations.

It was in that role, in the spring of 1985, that she met Herman Meinders, first at a fundraising breakfast in the president’s conference room, and later that year as LaDonna interviewed Meinders for a story she was writing for OCU’s Focus magazine.

The connection between the two began to grow stronger, and within a month they went on their first date. By February of 1986, Herman had proposed to LaDonna, and in May of that year, they were married at OCU’s Bishop W. Angie Smith Chapel.

“This resulted in my greatest partnership,” Herman Meinders said, noting that although the couple has supported numerous causes over the years, “OCU has been the largest recipient of our philanthropy."

Meinders School of Business Groundbreaking
Meinders School of Business Groundbreaking

Invaluable support

Former President McDaniel said the type of support and partnership that the Meinders have offered OCU is invaluable, especially when it comes to running a private university.

“Universities, and particularly private institutions like Oklahoma City University, depend heavily on partnerships to create programming, maintain infrastructure, and provide student scholarships — all of which are vital to the long-term viability of the school,” McDaniel said.

Herman Meinders said the role of the university’s leadership is important in fostering such partnerships.

“My interest in OCU was rekindled in the mid-1980s thanks to President Jerry Walker — he persuaded me to establish endowed scholarships for the business school,” Meinders said. “OCU had gone through some difficult financial times, and in my opinion, it survived due to the efforts of President Walker and certain trustees.”

The Meinders’ involvement from a financial perspective certainly helped the university. Salmeron, the former dean of the Kramer School of Nursing, said they’ve partnered with the university in a number of other vital ways, as well.

“They have given in many ways: their time; serving on university committees; sharing their expertise in business and the arts; and contributing significantly as the nursing program evolved,” Salmeron said.

In fact, many may not realize that 10 years before the Meinders School of Business was dedicated, Herman and LaDonna Meinders retired the debt on the original one-story nursing school building at OCU. In exchange, they were given naming rights for the building. The nursing school now bears the name of LaDonna’s parents, E.J. and Alma Kramer.

Herman and LaDonna Meinders in front of Kramer School of Nursing
Herman and LaDonna Meinders in front of Kramer School of Nursing

Years later, the Meinders continued their support for the nursing school by contributing to a campaign to construct the current three-story nursing building, and leading another campaign to build the Meinders Simulation Center, which allows health professions students to train with cutting-edge technology.

While the Meinders have helped provide the facilities where students learn, they’ve also helped the students who study inside those facilities, former OCU President Martha Burger noted.

“So many things come to mind when I think about Herman and LaDonna’s impact,” Burger said. “First and foremost is the sheer number of students they have helped access the university through scholarships. Many of these students would simply not have been able to attend OCU without the assistance provided by Meinders’ scholarships.”

Generational impact

Herman Meinders is quick to point out the value of partnerships and relationships when it comes to his long-standing connection to and interest in OCU.

“First and foremost would be my Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brothers,” he said. “I only attended OCU one year, but the bonds I forged with the Lambda Chi’s kept me connected with OCU during
the years I was gone from Oklahoma.”

He cited McDaniel as a key partner, noting his support during the time the Meinders School of Business was constructed, as well as former Board of Trustees Chairman Bill Shdeed, whose term as chair overlapped McDaniel’s as president.

The partnership of McDaniel and Shdeed “significantly changed the appearance and stature of OCU,” Meinders said.

He acknowledged the work of former Meinders School of Business deans Vince Orza and Steve Agee, current interim business Dean Russell Evans, as well as Burger and current OCU President Kenneth Evans.

Orza and Agee “greatly increased the visibility of the Meinders School of Business in the Oklahoma City community, as well as moved the school to AACSB accreditation,” he said, adding that he’s glad Russell Evans is continuing on the path they established.

He said Burger and Kenneth Evans “have done an excellent job keeping me informed of needs at OCU that I can support.”

Burger said working to develop partnerships like the one with Herman and LaDonna Meinders “contributes to the bedrock upon which our university is built.”

Perhaps no university partners have done more to strengthen that bedrock than the Meinders.

“Their connection to OCU and their love for the university has been demonstrated time and time again in transformational ways,” Burger said. “I can think of no other individuals who have done more to help OCU move forward and stay strong than Herman and LaDonna Meinders.”

Added McDaniel: “The impact of OCU’s partnership with Herman and LaDonna Meinders will be felt for many generations to come.”


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