A $500,000 gift from former Northwestern State football team captain Bryant Lewis and his wife, Heloise, will fund modernization of the reserved chairback seats on the lower deck of the west side stands at Turpin Stadium.
A portion of the gift will also further develop the athletic scholarship which was established in 2006 by the couple. Remaining funds will benefit the Demon football program, said athletics director Greg Burke.
The area behind the north end zone of Turpin Stadium, underneath the scoreboard, will be named “The Bryant Lewis Family Plaza” to complement “The Jack Clayton Plaza” behind the south end zone.
While all reserved seats will be replaced with contemporary, roomier purple chairbacks for the first time since the stadium opened in 1977, aisles in the six prime sections (D, E, F, G, H and I) of the lower deck reserved section will be widened, and railings added to assist patrons, said Burke.
Lewis, a Haynesville businessman, has owned and operated Magnolia Pulpwood Company, L.L.C., since 1969. A 1958 NSU graduate, he was enshrined in the Long Purple Line, the university’s Hall of Distinction for former students, in 2007.
A Haynesville native who was raised on a dairy farm, he was captain of the Kilgore (Texas) Junior College football team before playing offensive line for the Demons in 1956-57, when he also became team captain for the 1957 Gulf States Conference champions. Playing under two legendary NSU head coaches, Harry Turpin and Jack Clayton, Lewis was a key on teams that posted combined 13-4-2 records, 7-2-1 in the GSC. He was named an honorary team captain on NSU’s All-Century Team chosen in 2007 as part of the centennial celebration of Demon football.
The major gift comes at the close of the first year of Dr. Jim Henderson’s presidency at his alma mater. It plays into Dr. Henderson’s strategic framework which includes “Athletic Prominence” as one of five critical components to positioning Northwestern State as the nation’s premiere regional university.
“We could not be more appreciative of this investment in Demon football by Mr. Lewis and his family,” said Henderson. “Athletics is a vital part of the Northwestern State experience. Our student-athletes continue to compete at a very high level while achieving nearly peerless success in the classroom. They deserve world class training facilities and performance venues. Through the generosity of supporters like Bryant and Heloise Lewis, we will make considerable progress toward that goal.”
Significant enhancements for the fan experience at Turpin Stadium were made prior to the 2015 season, including the addition of a staircase above the north end zone and creation of the President’s Tailgate area in the rear lot of Caspari Hall. The stadium also annually hosts area high school and junior high football games, a marching band contest, events involving NSU students, and community service activities.
Burke said the gift by Lewis not only impacts Demon football but has a broad influence on NSU Athletics.
“This generous gift from Bryant and Heloise Lewis, for which everybody at NSU is immensely grateful, will have positive ramifications on many levels,” he said. “First and foremost, this donation is a huge positive for Demon football in terms of facility enhancement, which certainly plays an important role during the recruiting process and in the daily function of our student-athletes and coaches. Furthermore, Turpin Stadium remains an outstanding venue in which to watch a Division I football game and the upgrades to seats occupied by our loyal season ticket holders will enhance the fan experience.”
NSU head football coach Jay Thomas was appreciative and confident that the gift will produce more major strides for his program and the athletics department.
“Mr. and Mrs. Lewis love Northwestern. They always have been very supportive of his alma mater and most certainly, our football program. Getting backing of this magnitude, with a long-awaited renovation of our stadium to benefit our most loyal, longstanding fans, sends a heck of a signal about the direction we’re moving,” he said. “When something like this happens, we all dare to dream a little bigger about the things that can have a dramatic impact for this program, for our athletic department and for our university, and I’m sure others will be inspired to step up along the same lines.”
The improvements resulting from the Lewis gift are appreciated throughout the athletics department, said 17th-year head men’s basketball coach Mike McConathy.
“This is huge for all of us. Every sport is influenced by our football program, and by our fans having a great experience at our home games. There’s been a desire to upgrade those seats and now thanks to the generosity of Bryant and Heloise Lewis, and the leadership of Dr. Henderson and Greg Burke, it’s happening. Again and again we’re seeing things develop that will have long-lasting ramifications, and this produces such a strong positive feeling around our university,” said McConathy. “Nowadays at NSU when somebody asks, ‘what’s next?,’ it’s very exciting to consider the possibilities.”
For information about supporting the Demons Unlimited Foundation, visit NSUDemons.com/unlimited or contact Jonson (firstname.lastname@example.org, 318-357-4295) or assistant AD Haley Blount (email@example.com, 318-357-4278).