Provost Umphrey Stadium will be home to revived Lamar football team

Marilyn Tennissen Nov. 11, 2008, 5:38am

Walter Umphrey, left, with Lamar University President James Simmons at the naming of the Provost Umphrey Stadium.

Beaumont attorney Walter Umprhey's name keeps popping up all over Texas, and not just in the courtroom. When the Lamar University football team returns to the gridiron two years from now it will be in the newly named Provost Umphrey Stadium.

University officials made the announcement Monday, Nov. 10, that Cardinal Stadium will become Provost Umprhey stadium in recognition of a $3 million contribution from the Beaumont law firm and an additional $1 million gift from attorney Walter Umphrey and his wife Sheila.

The LU football program has been reinstated after almost 20 years and the revived Cardinal football team will have its first season in 2010.

The gifts from the law firm and the Umphreys will "enable the university to move ahead with the return of a competitive football program," Lamar President Jimmy Simmons said.

"Jimmy Simmons has done wonders for this university and Lamar University is the future of Southeast Texas - the absolute future," Walter Umphrey said after introducing senior partners Bryan Blevins, Paul "Chip" Ferguson, Joe Fisher, James Payne and David Wilson.

"We didn't give the gift necessarily for football. We did it for Lamar University," Umphrey said. "They thought it was a great idea."

The campus already boasts the Sheila Umphrey Recreational Sports Center, made possible by a $5 million donation from Walter Umphrey. It was the single largest donation in the University's history.

Elsewhere in Southeast Texas, residents can visit Walter Umphrey State Park on Pleasure Island for an afternoon of fishing, or receive treatment at the Walter Umphrey Cancer Center of Southeast Texas.

At Umphrey's alma mater, Baylor University in Waco, the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center provides training for the next generation of attorneys.

All of the named facilities were the result of large contributions from Umphrey or his family.

"The Provost Umphrey Law Firm has long been recognized as the home for steadfast champions of the rights of individuals," President Simmons said. "The women and men of Provost Umphrey are as committed to the communities of Southeast Texas as they are to the clients they serve so diligently."

"Private gifts can transform a university," he said. "These major gifts make it possible to begin the many steps necessary to prepare the Cardinals to be competitive on the gridiron."

Lamar will field a team in fall 2009, with scholarship and walk-on student-athletes, but will not begin playing outside competition until fall 2010. LU will play a full NCAA schedule as a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Independent in 2010 before officially rejoining the Southland Conference as a football member in 2011, when the university will play a full 8-game conference schedule.

Campus leaders consider the return of NCAA football a powerful and important enrollment management tool.

"With the excitement collegiate football brings, we will see more and more prospective students moving Lamar University to the head of their list," Simmons said.

A native of Port Arthur, Umphrey received a football scholarship to Southern Methodist University, then transferred to Baylor, ultimately earning two degrees there, the bachelor of business administration in 1959 and a juris doctorate in 1965.

He returned to Southeast Texas and joined the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office as a prosecuting attorney, ultimately becoming chief felony prosecutor.

In 1969, Umphrey co-founded a law office in Port Arthur with David Provost. The firm, known nationally for its many successful class action lawsuit settlements, now has 53 attorneys and more than 200 staff members working from Beaumont and additional offices in Houston, Nashville, Little Rock, Tyler and Washington, D.C.

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