Not all learning takes place in the classroom, nor must one be a formal student to learn. As a late learner in many areas, I have had frequent opportunity to appreciate these truths, and Royce Faulkner was one of my ablest teachers.
I first became aware of Royce Faulkner and his connection to Schreiner shortly after beginning work at the college in 1999. He was a highly successful contractor and in the midst of building the new Cailloux Center on the campus, but my role as provost did not cause our paths to cross often. I was aware that he had donated the costs of outfitting the theater in the new center when funds ran short.
In 2001, when I became Schreiner’s president, I had professional reasons to become better acquainted. After all, here was a successful businessman, a former student, one who had recent close contact with the campus. Any president worth his salt would certainly get to know him better. Frankly, my first steps were as clumsy as you might expect from a new president. I fumbled before recognizing that the Cailloux family, pleased with the work that Faulkner Construction had done on the student union they had funded, wished him to be the general contractor on the new academic building they were now making possible. Having cleared up that misunderstanding, I had the opportunity to be more closely involved with the next Faulkner Construction project on campus and to appreciate the quality of its work.
At that time, Royce was still deeply involved in the day-to-day business of his companies, so we encountered one another only occasionally. As he began to step away from active management, there was more time to become better acquainted. Sam Junkin, a year or two behind him at Schreiner Institute, filled me in on personal details. Royce was always friendly, but historically he had largely fended off the approaches of president and development staff.
The first proposal I brought to him was to fund a scholarship. He received it agreeably but was in no hurry to respond. In time, he began to drop by the campus on his way to and from his ranch, and we would chat. Slowly the icon of Texas commercial construction became for me an affable, unpretentious human being. Having semi-retired and made his long-term financial arrangements, he was moving to a time of philanthropy.
This change became apparent one day as he, VP for Advancement Mark Tuschak and I were driving to Austin. Mark and I had discussed asking for a scholarship donation, but I was surprised when he made that request. Royce laughed and said, “I’m going to do that, but only on one condition. You’ve got to tell Sam Junkin that all those years of working on me have finally paid off. He needs to know that he is finally successful.”
Royce often reminded us that he did not “go to Schreiner.” “I was sent there,” he said. His grandmother Dugger was convinced that order and discipline would enable this Austin High grad to thrive, and she knew these were available at Schreiner Institute in the late 1940s.
Royce had the natural interest of a builder in the facilities and appearance of the campus, an interest evident in his giving. He funded an underground sprinkler system, a batting cage, mowers, landscaping and golf carts for campus tours. One day in 2007 he asked me if he could make a personal comment. When I agreed, he said, “Now you look fine, don’t get me wrong, but this car is not presidential. It doesn’t look right when you’re going to meet prospects.” Shortly thereafter, the university owned, and the president drove, a new vehicle, one that Royce would replace each three years. When Ford Motors declined to take a bailout in the recession, Royce became a committed Ford man and that car became a Lincoln. Royce sharpened my appreciation of the importance of a campus’s physical appearance. And I believe that Royce was prompted to continue his philanthropy in part because he could see the difference it made.
Piece by piece, Royce Faulkner invested in Schreiner, improving appearance and operations. But we felt that there was something large that he wanted to do and that we needed him to do. I approached him about the new athletic facility at the top of our priorities, but it seemed to light no fire (though in time he made a major gift to that project). One day he asked me, “Let me ask you something. Do you need a new freshman dormitory?” I readily agreed that one was needed. “Well, that’s what I’m interested in,” he replied. Later I learned that he had been asking questions around the town and county about how folks perceived Schreiner and its future, and that he had learned enough to satisfy himself that philanthropy would not be wasted on the institution. Royce understood the principle of firing smaller exploratory shots before putting the match to the cannon.
Ultimately, Royce contributed the bulk of the cost of Faulkner Hall. Our master plan had a location for such a facility, but he had a different idea. With a twinkle in his eye and a hint of a smile, he said, “Sweet pea, I think a building this good needs to be out front where anyone driving by can see it.” And so it happened that way. It was during the planning and construction of the new facility that our friendship deepened. We visited sites together. He directed us to a strong architectural firm, though as he noted (in their presence), “Never ask an architect what something will cost. It’s an opportunity for exaggeration they can’t resist.” He kept tabs on all aspects of the project and attended all weekly meetings. He would listen, and when he spoke, it was to the point. He was always polite. His suggestions were concrete and offered courteously. That familiar opening, “Let me ask you a question,” was frequently an effective bridge to establishing common ground and finding a solution.
The construction industry is not noted for politeness or sensitivity. Those who succeed must be tough and exacting, and Royce Faulkner certainly met those criteria. But he had the endearing ability to listen, to suggest, and to reconcile differences rather than exacerbate them. People knew he respected them. One project manager from another firm confided in me that the years he worked for Faulkner were the best years he spent in the industry. You sensed that Royce was centered, and that his focus was on the essential, not the peripheral. Years of work, with undoubtedly many instances of costly misunderstanding, had made him precise in communication. “Look me in the eye,” he would say, and when he was certain he had your attention, he would ask his question or make his point. He was not overbearing, but he was determined to ensure that all sang from the same page in the same hymnbook. How many people do know who can call you “Honey” and make you believe that the term is earned?
And he was devoted to quality. As Faulkner Hall went up, he encountered new ideas from visiting other projects, such as improved insulation between floors or tile in boys’ bathrooms up to the level of four feet. The man who had been “sent to Schreiner” remembered how eighteen-year-olds behaved! Each time he introduced a change order that would add to cost, he said, “I’ll take care of that.” And he did.
Royce was not comfortable in the spotlight. We did get him and Donna to attend the grand opening of Faulkner Hall and later his induction as Distinguished Alumnus, but he preferred to be on the back row. Only gradually did I become aware of his long record of public service and quiet philanthropy. It was not that he lacked an ego. Anyone who had pursued a profession as vigorously as Royce had for half a century would naturally take pride in his work. With Royce, that pride would likelier prompt further generosity, though, rather than a desire for attention and glory.
When 2 ½ acres adjoining the campus behind Faulkner Hall were placed on the market, Royce visited me with an observation. “If this were Smith Hall, I wouldn’t care, but it’s Faulkner Hall. What if someone buying that property wants to put in a bordello? That won’t look so good.” To avoid such an embarrassment, he made a gift to enable Schreiner to purchase the property! Once more, Royce defined a problem and provided the solution.
Royce loved his ranch in west Kerr County, maintained it beautifully, and made it a vehicle for philanthropy. Handicapped youth had the opportunity to hunt deer from its many blinds. He would entertain his extended family in its spacious quarters. On several occasions, Schreiner’s cabinet retreated to Faulkner Ranch for summer planning sessions, so it became a setting for the shaping of ideas that helped the small college grow and enrich the academic experience it offered.
His trips between Austin and the ranch were often opportunities for quick visit to campus to check on projects or share lunch. A call from the road with the question, “Where will you be in an hour?” was always a treat. Royce would hop out of his truck in sunglasses, pressed khakis and white shirt. After barbeque or tacos, he would finish the drive to the ranch, likely with a stop off at the Hunt Store for one Bud Light. He particularly delighted in his relationship with our vice president for advancement, Mark Tuschak, and his way of conveying his affection was typically through mock concern. “I got a call from Tuschak,” he would say to me or Karen Kilgore. “I know he wants something. Whenever he asks me to lunch, he always needs something.” I believe Royce enjoyed the relationships with his Schreiner friends as much as they did.
I also believe that Royce loved to return to the place he had “been sent to” sixty and more years in the past. He could recall that rugged campus of the late 1940s in his mind’s eye, and he could see the place it had become. He never tired of helping it become better. When we developed a new campus master plan, one of our priorities was to rejuvenate our campus quadrangles. The primary quad featured a cluster of gorgeous live oaks, but its sidewalks were narrow and geometric, landscaping was limited, and its unirrigated ground was all too bare in the dusty summers.
One day we walked outside, and I described our plan to change that appearance over two summers with extensive landscaping, new walkways, and underground drip irrigation. “Let me ask you a question,” he said. “If you had the money now could you do it all in one summer? I want to see what it looks like before I die.” Happily, Royce had ample opportunity to see the beautiful quadrangle dedicated to him and Donna for several years thereafter.
Royce, how much we owe you for both the beauty and functionality of Schreiner University! What a stronger place of learning we are through your generosity. How much our confidence in Schreiner’s future was affirmed by your generous support. And, if I may be permitted a more selfish observation, how much I learned from my relationship with you. I came to appreciate the complex process of moving from concept to completed facility. I learned how both technical skill and human understanding are essential to success in such undertakings. I learned how lasting an affection can be between a man and a place, and how that affection can prompt unending generosity. Yes, Royce, you became a teacher to this college president, and, like all good teachers, imparted lessons far beyond those that you were probably ever conscious of teaching.