Ralph S. O'Connor (pictured at right), a 1951 graduate and strong believer in the value of sports and physical fitness, will be honored at the dedication of The Johns Hopkins University's new recreation center on Friday, April 12, at 4:30 p.m. on the Homewood campus.
O'Connor -- a Houston businessman, philanthropist and civic leader -- has made generous gifts toward construction of the building, which will bear his name. The 63,000- square-foot Ralph S. O'Connor Recreation Center includes a weight room, fitness center, 30-foot climbing wall, locker rooms, racquetball/squash courts and an 18,000-square-foot gymnasium that can be set up as three basketball courts, five volleyball courts or three badminton courts.
The $14.3 million facility abuts the Newton H. White Jr. Athletic Center, a varsity sports facility built in 1964 when the Homewood undergraduate student body was all male and less than half its current size. Designed for students, faculty and staff, the new center significantly increases opportunities for non-athletes to work out. "Since not everyone can play varsity sports, the new recreation center provides superb space for intramural and informal competitions and physical fitness activities," said O'Connor, who played basketball and football at Johns Hopkins.
After graduating from Johns Hopkins in 1951 with a biology degree, O'Connor worked with Highland Oil Co. and Herman Brown and George R. Brown Oil and Gas. In 1964, he became president of Highland Oil and later was chairman, president and CEO of Highland's successor, HRI Resources. The company's holdings included oil and gas, real estate, agriculture, a railroad and a beer distributorship. In 1987, he formed the Ralph S. O'Connor & Associates investment firm, of which he is chairman and CEO.
O'Connor has served on civic and educational boards in Houston and elsewhere. He is a trustee emeritus and a presidential counselor at Johns Hopkins and a recipient of the university President's Medal for exemplary service. He has endowed a scholarship for undergraduates in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, where an endowed professorship in biology bears his name. He also was instrumental in establishing the Walter S. Stark Professorship in Ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins' Wilmer Eye Institute.
The recreation center opened in January and is already popular. "The O'Connor Recreation Center is a fantastic facility," said William R. Brody, president of the university. "It offers a whole new set of options to our students, faculty, and staff. We are very grateful to Ralph O'Connor and the other donors who have been so generous in their support."
The O'Connor Recreation Center is entirely donor- funded. Thanks to a bequest from Larry Goldfarb of Baltimore, its gym will be named for his longtime friend Robert H. Scott, a 1952 Hopkins graduate. Scott retired in 1995 after nearly 50 years with Johns Hopkins as student, lacrosse coach and, later, athletic director. Goldfarb, a certified public accountant who died in 2001, provided philanthropic support for Hopkins athletics over nearly 30 years, including renovation of the Larry Goldfarb Gymnasium at the White Athletic Center.
The O'Connor Center's 2,500-square-foot fitness facility, a gift from the PepsiCo Foundation, contains treadmills, cross-trainers, stationary bikes, stair machines and rowing machines. The building also has a third-floor multipurpose room, named in honor of Robert M. and Anne B. Evans of Baltimore. Bob Evans, a 1954 graduate of Johns Hopkins and also a varsity basketball player, was an early industry leader in providing computer services to Baltimore businesses and later founded Middleton Press. Anne "Shiny" Evans has had a distinguished career advising Baltimore's private schools and colleges on development programs.
The center was designed by Sasaki Associates of Watertown, Mass., and built by Whiting Turner Contracting Co. Sasaki is also responsible for new recreation centers at both Loyola College in Baltimore and the University of Maryland, College Park. Lead architect Steve Schetler said that what makes the Hopkins building special is its intermingling of spaces. "For instance, from the jogging track you can look into either the climbing wall area or the fitness room," he said. "You can enjoy adjacent spaces from almost everywhere you are."
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