There are signs of Ron Mafrige all over Sam Houston State University. His name is chiseled into marble benches, stamped into plaques and displayed across the facades of two university buildings. Soon the SHSU alumni’s name will be seen in a new place, on the base of his most recent contribution to the university, the newly erected 15-foot statue of Gen. Sam Houston.
Frank Holmes, vice president for University Advancement, said: “He’s been an extraordinary philanthropist for Sam Houston State. His total contributions are easily in excess of $2 million and he continues to give to the university.”
But Mafrige is not a man that likes the spotlight. Any mention of the amount of his contributions causes him to pause and, in his soft-spoken manner, reiterate who the donation was given in honor of. He doesn’t care to talk about what he’s done or what honors he has received, but rather those he’s honoring, all whom have touched his life personally.
R. Dean Lewis, dean of the College of Business said, “He is just a very generous person, a very sharing individual; he likes to do things for his friends and those that he admires greatly.”
The names of friends, family and businesses associates, including former SHSU head football coach Ron Randleman, dean of the College of Business, R. Dean Lewis, and former SHSU professor Tommy Davis are scattered throughout the SHSU campus
showcasing Mafrige’s admiration and respect. SHSU graduate and WWII hero, Col. H.D. Etheridge is the newest addition to the list.
The statue of Sam Houston was donated by Mafrige earlier this month. It is sculpted by local artist David Adickes, who Mafrige believes, will eventually be known as one of the better artists of our time. The statue is aptly located adjacent to the Smith-Hutson building, where Mafrige has made such large contributions. Mafrige said the statue adds to the university that carries its name and since it was created by a local artist, offers tradition too.
“I felt the combination of what [Adickes] did with the Sam Houston statue and the fact that he was the artist was a double hit,” Mafrige said.
The location for the statute is one of two selected by an art committee formed by the university. Mafrige is pleased with the placement and Lewis said he couldn’t be happier about it.
“I think it’s a wonderful addition. I’m just pleased it’s right outside my office,” Lewis said.
Mafrige’s affinity for those that have touched his life is matched only by his passion for history and even this can be seen in various places on campus. Mafrige has gifted several collections of memorabilia to the university. The Theatre department received a collection of Gone With the Wind memorabilia, only missing a single piece, and the college of business has a complete set of sports memorabilia on display. Mafrige believes the items offer a connection to the past and has one of the most impressive collections in the state.
Mafrige said, “I’m a history buff and I think that memorabilia gets you as close to history as anything. Pieces of his collections can also be seen at the George Bush Presidential Library.
Mafrige believes learning and knowing the past is an integral aspect of success and as a successful commercial real-estate investor in Houston, he should know. He opened his company, Ron Mafrige Enterprises in 1965. From his first transaction involving two properties, to larger and more complicated investments, the company now leases over one million square feet of office space in Houston and the surrounding suburban areas. The business is now primarily run by Mafrige’s only son, Ronald “Rocky” Mafrige.
Mafrige was influenced by his father’s success in business and, as a college student, decided to majoring in business was his best chance for success.
“My father was in business, he owned his own business,” Mafrige said. “I felt there were more opportunities in business than in any other major.”
Mafrige struggled through school, suffering from dyslexia, a little known learning disorder at that time. He first attended Texas A&M University, which he describes as having a “Darwinian approach” of survival of the fittest. Due to suffering grades, he moved to Trinity and then Houston universities at an attempt to bring up his grade point average, before settling at SHSU. The smaller classes and personal care SHSU offered made a huge impact and Mafrige saw his grades rise from failing to A’s and B’s.
“That’s where I think the caring of the school and teachers made a difference,” Mafrige said. “Tommy Davis taught me Algebra and explained everything to me. If you had a question, you could ask it.”
With better grades and smaller classes, Mafrige had more time to devote to his social life and in his second year at SHSU, joined the Esquires, a social fraternity that in 1959, changed to the Delta Tau Delta’s when SHSU adopted the Greek system. He is still an active member and joins at least 24 other charter members who meet for a summer and winter reunion each year.
After graduating college with a bachelor’s in business in 1960, Mafrige joined the army and was assigned to the Medical Service Corp. Ironically stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Mafrige trained medics prepared to deploy to Vietnam. He couldn’t find words to describe the experience.
“It was an experience,” Mafrige said. “I wouldn’t say it was bad. Obviously, a lot of them didn’t come back”
After completing his service, Mafrige remained in the Army Reserves for 14 years and, during that time, achieved status as a major.
Mafrige’s financial contributions are numerous and widespread. In 2006, he gave $250,000 to the SHSU athletic department for the construction of the football strength and conditioning facility. The building is adjacent to the aptly-named, Ron Mafrige Field House. He has also contributed $1.46 million to the capitol campaign of the university’s $50 million “Share the Vision” campaign, for which he serves as national chair. Several classrooms in the Smith-Hutson building are dedicated to friends, and Mafrige and his wife, Linda, established a $1 million endowment for the College of Business Administration.
According to Bobby Williams, director of SHSU athletics, Mafrige’s contributions are most deeply felt in the ways that don’t find acknowledgement in plaques and benches.
“You really can’t put a dollar amount on the caring aspect he provides,” Williams said. “He’s just one of those unique individuals that doesn’t ask for a lot back; he likes to give. He is just one of those great Bearkats.”
Besides Mafrige’s involvement at SHSU, he has established scholarship programs at his high school, San Marcos Baptist Academy, and with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. He is a lifetime member of the Houston 100 Club, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Republican National Committee. He is actively involved with the Make a Wish Foundation, Crime Stoppers and several other foundations and agencies.