Featured Testimonial About Creighton University
You build these lifelong relationships that grow out of the nucleus of the people you live with on campus. With this new building, Creighton can give students an even greater opportunity to create the connections they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives.
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Graves Hall — opening Aug. 11 near 24th and Burt Streets — will offer freshmen a whole new kind of Creighton experience.
The first residence hall built exclusively for first-year students since the 1960s, the 400-student Graves Hall is made up mostly of four-person suites, each with two living spaces, two bedrooms and a shared bathroom. Each floor will have kitchenettes and spaces dedicated to study, socialization and recreation. The hall’s lower level will provide spaces for interfaith programming, student development, wellness, academics and more.
Graves Hall is also innovating in the area of sustainability technology. It’s the first building in North America to use VirtuHOT HD, a solar-powered system produced by Naked Energy and implemented by ELM Companies that will heat all water used in the residence hall.
The accompanying Simpson Family Courtyard, meanwhile, will serve as an active social space with a bevy of features — artificial turf (part of which can easily be converted to a volleyball court), two fire pits, multiple areas for lounge seating, a small stage for events, two ping pong tables, a bocce ball court and more.
Altogether, it’s going to be a living and gathering space unlike any the University has seen before, a home for thousands of future students and a backdrop for countless Creighton experiences. It was made possible by an alumni friendship of nearly 50 years and counting.
The namesakes (and lead donors) of the hall and courtyard are Lee C. Graves, BSBA’80, JD’83, and his wife, Judy Graves, and their close friends Kathy and Jim Simpson, BA’80.
Lee and Jim go back a ways. To 1976, when they were freshmen living in the same residence hall (Swanson). But they really got to know each other the following spring, when they both pledged for the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. “We’ve had each other’s back ever since,” Jim says.
Case in point: a few years after Jim graduated, he and Kathy were married and living in an Omaha townhouse. One day, Kathy found herself home alone with their first child — future Bluejay Katie Simpson, BA'05, JD'12, MS'13 — when she heard someone trying to break in. (Jim was in Dallas at the time, taking classes for his job with IBM.)
Kathy called the police, who soon arrived and searched the premises. They didn’t find anyone and left soon after. Twenty minutes later, the intruder was back. Kathy called Jim. Jim told her to call Lee.
When he got Kathy’s call, Lee was about 20 minutes away from the Simpsons’ home. He got there in 10. He checked around the house, walked the neighborhood for a couple of hours, then slept on the couch that night in case the intruder returned.
Later that year, Jim and Kathy welcomed their second child. They named her Jessie Lee Simpson.
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“The thing about Creighton that’s different from a lot of places is its sense of family and sense of community,” says Lee, the chairman, founder and CEO of ELM Companies, which provides utility and energy management services (and implemented the aforementioned VirtuHOT HD system on Graves Hall’s roof). “That strong sense of community holds just as true now as it did back in our day.”
Lee and Judy Graves are longtime donors to the business and law schools, in addition to other causes. Jim and Kathy Simpson are longtime donors to Creighton Athletics, the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Dentistry, along with other causes.
They first came together to support Creighton in 2003, joining other members of the Phi Psi fraternity in honoring their friend, then-University President the Rev. John P. Schlegel, SJ, by creating an endowed professorship in politics in his name.
Fr. Schlegel, a fellow Phi Psi, was close with this crew. Lee recalls his many confessions with Fr. Schlegel “given over a bottle of Cabernet wine in the Jesuit Gardens. The Jesuits’ philosophy is that ‘God is everywhere.’”
It was Fr. Schlegel who convinced Lee to go to law school at Creighton. Lee — a Peoria, Illinois, native — had wanted to go somewhere near a beach. But Fr. Schlegel, then the chaplain of the School of Law, was insistent: “I’m looking forward to seeing you here next year, Lee.”
Looking back now, Lee says, “I wouldn’t have traded going to Creighton law school or any of these moments with Fr. Schlegel for anything.”
It’s about as concrete an example of the value of a Creighton education as you can find: One Jesuit’s friendship and guidance shaping the course of countless lives. Fr. Schlegel passed away in 2015, but his legacy carries on today, through the work of his friends.
When Rich Doyle, BS’80 — a fellow Phi Psi who was also close to Fr. Schlegel — learned that Lee was making the lead gift to build the new residence hall, he told him that “Padre would be proud.”
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Teaming up for the same Creighton project — especially one that spotlighted the essential formative experience of living on campus — “worked out perfectly” for both the Graves and Simpson families, says Kathy Simpson. “It’s a tribute to our friendship.”
It’s also a tribute, Jim says, to how much your time at Creighton (and all the friendships you collect along the way) can alter the course of the rest of your life. Creighton, he says, has the ability to ruin your plans in the most wonderful way.
“Some students come to Creighton knowing what they want to do with their life,” Jim says. “And some are right, and some are wrong. Fortunately, Creighton creates an environment where you can pivot successfully and follow your dreams wherever they lead you. I think that’s just as true today as it was when we went to school.
“Look at us now. Lee never planned on doing what he’s doing. I never planned on doing what I’m doing.”
Jim was one of the students who thought he knew where Creighton would take him, but he ended up in an entirely different spot come commencement. At first, he wanted to be a dentist, following in the footsteps of his older brother Billy Simpson, BA'77, DDS'81 — who passed away in 2014. Problem was, Jim learned very quickly that he loathed the profession of dentistry.
After three years in the College of Arts and Sciences, Jim started at, then dropped out of Creighton’s dental school after one semester. By this point, he and Kathy — high school sweethearts of Mitchell, South Dakota — were married. They were also flat broke. The Simpsons didn’t have enough money for Jim to finish his undergraduate degree at Creighton.
They sold their car and Jim’s dental tools, and he walked into the admissions office. He told them: “Alright, this is how much we have. Can you help me with the rest so I can finish my degree?”
Creighton made up the difference, and Jim was able to complete his remaining year with an undergraduate degree in psychology. (Incidentally, he worked as an RA in Swanson his junior year.)
After graduating from Creighton, Jim got a job at IBM — “Luckily they were hiring for critical thinking skills instead of engineering skills at that time, so I fit the bill” he says. Jim spent the next 19 years there as a salesman and sales manager, then served for another 20 years as the President and CEO of MSI Systems Integrators and subsequently the President of Strategic Initiatives at Sirius Computer Solutions, after the latter company acquired the former.
So much of what Jim and Lee learned at Creighton was rooted in the Jesuit approach to their education. Their group of friends grew close to three Jesuits in particular — Father Richard Hauser, SJ; Father Neil Cahill, SJ, BS’43, MS’77; and the aforementioned Fr. Schlegel. The Simpson and Graves families’ Creighton connection continued with two other University Presidents — fellow Phi Psi Father Timothy Lannon, SJ, BS’73; and now Father Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD.
Given Jim and Lee’s Creighton experience, it’s more than a little fitting that Graves Hall and the Simpson Family Courtyard are right across the street from the new Jesuit Residence opening in the spring.
“The whole Jesuit community contributed to my experience at Creighton,” Jim says. “They had different styles and were able to help different students with different things in different ways. Some of the same Jesuits who were so influential for us became an important part of our children’s lives later on.”
Fr. Cahill baptized three of Jim and Kathy’s four daughters. Fr. Hauser offered their eldest daughter, Katie, spiritual guidance during her time at Creighton. Fr. Hendrickson was her advisor.
Lee Graves — who lives in Fort Worth, Texas — makes it back to Omaha as often as he can, not just to catch up with his former classmates and fraternity brothers but to tap back into that Jesuit community that helped shape him into who he is today.
They had no way of knowing it at the time, but the years Lee and Jim spent at Creighton would end up being the first chapter in a story that now continues more than 40 years later. That’s their hope for this building, this courtyard and all the major changes coming to campus this academic year — that these spaces will spark the start of countless stories more.
“You build these lifelong relationships that grow out of the nucleus of the people you live with on campus,” Lee says. “With this new building, Creighton can give students an even greater opportunity to create the connections they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives.”
The more years that pass, the more you come to appreciate those connections, Jim says. You become mindful of the moments and the people who helped you get where you are today.
“If my brother Billy had never come to Creighton, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Jim says. “If the admissions office had said I was on my own when I couldn’t afford to come back to Creighton for my final year, we wouldn’t be where we are today. If the Jesuits and my friends and fraternity brothers hadn’t set me down my career path, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
“Frankly, if it weren’t for Creighton and all the starts it gave us, we wouldn’t be in the position to give back like this.”
The hope for Graves Hall and the Simpson Family Courtyard, he says, is that they’re starting something that starts many other somethings. Brilliant careers, life-changing friendships, significant others, legacy families.
“When you have the opportunity to do something good, you have to take it,” Jim says. “You just never know all the amazing things it might lead to and all the lives you might change.”
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The following group photo of Jesuits who served Creighton was taken by The Rev. Don Doll, SJ, in the Jesuit Gardens in 1980, the year Lee Graves and Jim Simpson graduated. It was the first time since 1913 a group photo of all the Jesuits had been taken. See a larger version of the image identifying each Jesuit here.
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