Lindenwood University President Dennis Spellmann died Wednesday from cancer. He was 70.|
Spellman is credited with bringing Lindenwood to Belleville in 2003 in a controversial deal in which the St. Charles, Mo.-based university bought the former Belleville West High School site on West Main Street for $1.
"It was clear from the very first time I met that man, that he was down to earth, extremely intelligent and had incredible vision," Mayor Mark Eckert said. "I'm saddened, but his is certainly a life to celebrate."
Under Spellmann's leadership, Lindenwood has renovated the historic auditorium, increased class offerings, and bought up neighboring lots in anticipation of expanding the Belleville campus and striking a deal with the state for space to build a new Illinois State Police crime lab. And Spellman hoped that one day restaurants, boutiques and book stores would fill the many nearby empty storefronts.
"Lindenwood is committed to Belleville and the Belleville community for the long haul," spokesman Scott Queen said. "It was a very special project for President Spellmann and he has forged some special relationships in the community."
City leaders believe Lindenwood has been an anchor for redevelopment in the area and point to the ongoing renovation of the former Travel Lodge hotel on West Main Street as one indicator.
"That campus could have sat empty in that neighborhood for many, many years and could have become an eyesore, instead we have a campus that is very community-minded. Having a university that is growing and has a bright future ... it brings our education package to a premium in this town. It's been a good partnership," Eckert said.
When Spellmann joined Lindenwood in 1989 it was on the brink of closure. The university had an endowment of less than $1 million and fewer than 800 students. Spellmann oversaw the construction of nine buildings on the St. Charles campus and the opening of five satellite campuses in Missouri in addition to Belleville. During his 17-year tenure, the endowment grew to more than $50 million and enrollment rose to 15,000 students.
Bob Kelsheimer of Centralia, who worked with Spellmann for two years to negotiate the deal for the Belleville campus, described Spellmann as a visionary with a strong business sense who also was committed to the students.
"He was a big picture thinker. What a lot of people might think couldn't be done he could envision it and then he could get you excited with his enthusiasm and the next thing you knew it was happening," Kelsheimer said. "There aren't a lot of people like that."
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at the Hyland Performance Arena on the St. Charles campus. Contributions to the university in Spellmann's memory can be sent to Charlsie Floyd, in the Development Office, 290 S. Kingshighway, St. Charles, Mo. 63301.
Published in Belleville News-Democrat on Aug. 31, 2006