POSTED ON JANUARY 16, 2008:
A Humble Benefactor
"TU's Boone Pickens," Mike Case adds a little green to the eye of the Golden Hurricane
"I'm not T. Boone Pickens," said Mike Case, stifling a mild chuckle, after he was asked how involved he is in the University of Tulsa's athletic programs.
"Sometimes people say that OSU has T. Boone Pickens, and TU's got Mike D. Case, but I'm not Boone Pickens. I'm Slim Pickins," he quipped.
"Slim Pickins" indeed.
If the millions of dollars the apartment developer and philanthropist put down for the Michael D. Case Tennis Center and for the Case Athletic Complex are "slim pickins," then the checks he's signing for the 40-some-odd other organizations to which he contributes must be pretty staggering.
But, the founder and president of the Case and Associates' real estate empire isn't one to trumpet his own contributions or accomplishments, or himself.
But then, he doesn't really need to.
The big, red, upright cubes emblazoned with "Case and Associates" that are scattered throughout this town and a multitude of others across six states, like colonial flags declaring that this, too, is a Case-owned apartment complex--they do the trick pretty well for him.
Not to mention his named carved in stone on the TU campus, bearing witness to future generations of the legacy of Michael D. Case.
But, upon meeting the man in person, one is simultaneously and paradoxically struck both by his approachability and by his gravitas.
Sitting in his office, his easy smile and down-to-earth, Midwestern charm make it easy to put aside the fact that he's sitting behind an enormous desk of finely polished oak, large enough for a skilled pilot to land a helicopter on a windy day. And that his private office alone probably takes up more square footage than a certain reporter's house.
Except, as expansive as his office is, it seems custom-fit for Case.
Not that he's an exceptionally large man. By this writer's guess, he's a tad less than six feet, with a frame and a build to suggest his participation as a younger man in many of the sports of which he is now a patron.
It's not his physical stature that makes him seem to fill the room, but his bearing and demeanor, although not in any daunting or intimidating way. Rather, he has a way of making visitors likely feel as at home as he is in his regal trappings.
As he reluctantly discussed his particular role in making TU one of the nation's top-ranked institutes of higher education, he commented, without the barest suggestion of irony, "I'm not really a well-educated guy."
"What's made me successful is hard work and tenacity in whatever I do, and that carries over into business. I've also always had a good ability to negotiate," Case added.
The real estate magnate is not an alumnus of TU, nor of any college, unless one loosely considers his formative years when he managed properties on what would be the expanded campus of Tulsa's hometown university.
"While other people my age were getting their education there, I was managing apartments across the street," Case recounted.
Growing up in west Tulsa near Sand Springs, and then Pea Ridge, Ark. after the eighth grade when his Pentecostal preacher father moved him and his six brothers and sisters there, Case had originally planned to go to college someday.
But, after he married his high school sweetheart Pat, she was pregnant soon after, so his time and energy were occupied with supporting his new family instead of pursuing an education.
"She got pregnant again with our second child, and that kind of cinched the deal," said Case.
"I had three kids by the time I was 22 years old," he added.
It was about that time when he moved back to Tulsa with his new family, where he found work under Roger Hardesty, who was an up-and-coming apartment developer. Hardesty is also a TU benefactor today, and his enterprises have since expanded into aviation, concrete and transportation.
Case worked for Hardesty for 15 years until he ventured out on his own in 1983 and started Case and Associates Properties, which has since grown into a property management firm worth nearly $2 billion, spanning six states and about 25,000 apartment units.
And now that the pastor's kid from west Tulsa is a multi-gazillionaire, giving something back is just a matter of course.
"I was raised by a conservative father and mother, and they instilled in me early on the value of giving," said Case.
"They didn't have very much, but they always found ways to give something to those less fortunate," he said.
And the "less fortunate" in this case, is the University of Tulsa, among a host of others Case wouldn't divulge.
While the private school is on a very long list of recipients of Case generosity, he said, "We feel like the University of Tulsa is a special place."
"We felt like helping TU is actually helping the city. It brings people to Tulsa," he said.
With a top-tier university in the heart of the city, Case said young people are more likely to go there and put down roots in the community and raise their own families in Tulsa.
Also, with nationally renowned athletic attractions within the city limits, the community reaps the benefits.
"Success in those venues is a big advertisement for Tulsa," said Case.
And, of course, there's the educational benefit to TU's students.
"We wanted to give our kids the tools to compete," said Case, referring to the young people of Tulsa as "our kids," since he and his wife's own three children were all grown and well-established in their own careers by the time the Case Tennis Center was a twinkle in their father's eye.
And considering he did just fine without the "tools" in question doesn't undermine their importance, he said.
"Education is a very important part of life. We think everybody ought to get it done and we feel good that we contributed to that," Case said.
While the tennis center and athletic complex will serve as monuments to Case's generosity for future generations of Tulsans and TU students, they aren't what he's most proud of, though.
One of his lesser-known contributions is having built many of the 400 new apartments on campus.
"I feel as good about the apartments we built as I do about the tennis center and the athletic complex," he said.
While he didn't give them the apartments outright, but was a paid contractor, Case said the new student housing is what makes the difference in TU's transformation of the past decade.
"They never had really good student housing, and that's what makes it more of a campus than just a school," said Case.
But, a $10 million, world-class indoor tennis facility and accompanying athletic complex don't hurt, either.
While he's an avid sports fan, Case said his largesse doesn't buy him any influence over the inner workings of TU athletics.
While Case casts no stones at a certain OSU benefactor who's been known to assume some coaching responsibilities from time to time, he said, "I'm not actually involved in trying to run the athletics. I like athletics and I go to all the games, but I don't call the shots from the sidelines."
He does serve on the TU Board of Trustees, but said his influence doesn't reach any farther than any of the 24 other trustees.
"Some people might think I carry a big stick over there. They'll return my phone calls, but I don't have any more say over what goes on than the other board members."
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