COLUMBIA — When Sam Hamra left his hometown in the Bootheel region to attend MU, he couldn’t help but notice his black peers were staying behind. Some of them would carry on the work their parents did, picking and chopping cotton for his father’s clothing company.
“Their children didn’t go to school, and I knew that these kids didn’t have the opportunities that some of us had and couldn’t afford to go to college, much less high school,” Hamra said. “I just felt that someday if I was ever in the position to help them, I would.”
Last week, MU announced that Hamra and his wife, June, had made good on that promise he’d made to himself years ago. The couple has donated $100,000 to the School of Law to provide scholarships to black students attending the school. And depending on how it works out, Hamra said he may donate more.
Sam Hamra and his son and daughter are graduates of MU’s law school. June Hamra has a master’s degree in music from MU, so the whole family is enthusiastic about giving back to the school, Hamra said.
“We will possibly be adding more money in time if it’s as successful as we hope it will be,” Hamra said.
According to the Law School Admission Council, one in 25 lawyers are ethnic or racial minorities, and since the 1994-95 school year, law school admissions for black students have declined.
Larry Dessem, dean of MU Law School, described Hamras’ gift as significant. “The beauty of an endowment is you spend the income, so every year you are able to give a scholarship and that’s why we try to get those because we need them for all of our students,” he said.
MU law student Terry James said that with many graduates leaving school $50,000 to $100,000 in debt, scholarships are helpful. They help hold down the debt and make it easier for graduates to work in the public sector, as opposed to working for a private law firm because they need a higher salary to pay back their debts.
Tuition at the law school is roughly $15,000. The endowment will provide a $5,000 scholarship for one student each year. The School of Law had a total minority enrollment of 11.6 percent in its freshman class last year, and a 14.3 percent minority enrollment among all classes. The endowment should help increase those numbers, Dessem said.
A graduate of MU’s School of Law in 1959, Springfield attorney Hamra is the chairman and chief executive of Hamra enterprises, owner of 23 Wendy’s restaurants and 32 Panera Bread cafes. He was governmental relations attorney for several Missouri communities, including Branson and St. Robert. He was also a recipient of the highest award given by the MU Alumni Association, the Distinguished Alumni Award. He serves on the board of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and is charter president of the Springfield Southeast Rotary Club.