Gov. Warren Hearnes made many contributions to education, but the building Missouri athletics has called home for the past 32 years is his best-known contribution.
In 1966, Hearnes went to see Missouri play football at the University of Illinois. The trip changed Missouri athletics. After lunch with Illinois chancellor George Russell, who became Missouri’s university president, they went to see Illinois’ new basketball arena, Assembly Hall. Hearnes knew right away that it was what Missouri needed.
When Hearnes returned to Jefferson City, he called MU Athletic Director Dan Devine to discuss the matter. Devine told Hearnes the school wanted a new arena, but the matter was low on the list. When the conversation ended, Hearnes told Devine getting a new arena was the priority.
Hearnes brought arena discussion to the forefront
On Jan. 5, 1967, Hearnes recommended the General Assembly appropriate $7.65 million for a multipurpose building at Missouri.
It wasn’t a surprise to many because Brewer Fieldhouse, where the Tigers played until 1972, made people nervous because it had steep bleachers and only 5,000 seats.
“Those stands felt like they were going to fall every time you went to a basketball game,” Hearnes said.
Getting the financing for the building through the legislature was not easy, said Betty Hearnes, Hearnes’ wife.
“He had some hitches along the way and he had to really talk them into it, but of course he got it,” she said.
The building was dedicated to Hearnes at its opening Aug. 4, 1972.
Hearnes said he was surprised when he found out the building he helped get money for would bear his name.
“You know, it’s quite an honor for a person,” Hearnes said. “I’ve had a number of buildings named after me, and I’m not saying that’s not an honor because it is, but when you love sports like I do and did, it’s quite moving for you.”
Betty Hearnes’ reaction was a bit different, she said.
“I was kind of stunned because they usually name buildings after people who are dead,” she said
New arena worries Hearnes because of budget woes
Hearnes isn’t being egotistical when he said he isn’t in favor of the new arena. Hearnes’ strong feelings about education keep him from understanding why the university is building the arena when the state is having financial troubles, he said.
“People say, ‘Oh, it was named after him,’ but I’m not talking about that, I am just talking about we’re in bad shape right now financially in the state, and then we are going to build a new arena and go in debt,” Hearnes said.
“We’ve got one that was built free of debt. I’m a conservative on money, and it doesn’t seem exactly cricket.”
The Hearnes will be at the last game in the Hearnes Center on Sunday, guests of legendary Missouri coach Norm Stewart, a family friend.
“It gives me a thrill to see the University of Missouri basketball team and it’s playing in the Hearnes Center,” Betty Hearnes said. “I like that and then of course there is always that myth about playing there at their home court against Kansas. They haven’t lost to Kansas much.
“I’m not a Jayhawk fan, I’m a Tiger fan.”
Hearnes' life dedicated to service
A Missouri native, Hearnes was born July 24, 1923, to Earle B. and Edna May Eastman Hearnes of Charleston. The youngest of five children, Hearnes graduated from the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., in 1946 and served in the 65th regimental combat team in Puerto Rico during World War II.
Hearnes rose to the rank of first lieutenant the next year before an accident ended his military career. Hearnes retired Dec. 31, 1949, and moved back to Missouri with his wife.
Hearnes and his future wife grew up together, but did not date until he was home on leave in 1948. Hearnes asked Betty to marry him after their third date because he was headed overseas and didn’t think he had a lot of time, he said.
The couple has been married for 56 years and has three daughters and four grandchildren.
When Hearnes was injured in Puerto Rico, the Hearnes’ lives changed forever.
“I thought I was marrying an army officer and would spend the rest of our life in the army,” Betty Hearnes said.
When the couple returned to Missouri, Hearnes began his political career in 1950 when he won a seat in the Missouri House of Representatives. At 27, Hearnes was the youngest man to serve in the position at the time.
While serving as a legislator, Hearnes also finished his law degree at MU and helping to raise his oldest daughter, who was 5 months old when the couple returned to the United States.
“(The legislature) met at about 12; he’d go to school all morning and go to the legislature and work in the afternoon, and come home after committee meetings, study about half the night, get up in the morning and go back to school,” Betty Hearnes said.
Political career focused on education, mental health
Hearnes served in the house for 10 years and rose to the rank of majority floor leader, which he held for four years. He served as Missouri’s Secretary of State before becoming governor in 1964.
As governor, Hearnes pushed through a constitutional amendment in August 1965 that took away the limit on the state’s chief executive to one term. The amendment allowed Hearnes to become the state’s first re-elected governor in 1968.
During his second and final term as governor, which ended in 1972, Hearnes signed an unpopular tax increase, which cost him a bid for office in 1976.
That year, Hearnes lost his bid for the U.S. Senate to Republican Attorney General John Danforth. Hearnes wasn’t the initial candidate. He replaced Jerry Litton after a plane crash killed Litton and his family while en route to a victory party in Kansas City. The loss broke a 30-year Democratic hold on the office.
Hearnes’ decision to raise taxes was something he said he would do only if necessary. During his political career, Hearnes said he felt passionately about education and mental healthcare.
“If you do not educate your young people, it’s just a calamity for your young people and we just fall behind other states,” Hearnes said.
During Hearnes’ eight years in office, state aid to higher education increased from $47.5 million to $144.7 million.
Hearnes said he is also proud of the improvements to mental healthcare that were made during his time as governor.
“Well, I had worked so hard, when I was a legislator, in the education field and mental health,” Hearnes said. “Mental health was in terrible shape when I took office and we did so many things with what we called a diagnostic clinic.”
Hearnes said he realized early in his career that it was cheaper to spend thousands of dollars in the treatment of mental health patients than it was to spend millions for their care when it was too late to help them.
After politics Hearnes returned to his legal practice and worked to provide civil legal work to the indigent. Hearnes retired from full-time practice six years ago and spends most of his time trying to get money from the state legislature for the legal agency he works with. Hearnes said he was well suited to deal with the legislature.
“They didn’t have to give me any training,” Hearnes said.