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Henderson: Morsani never stops giving back to the community

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Published:   |   Updated: May 28, 2013 at 09:12 AM

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Frank Morsani didn't attend the University of South Florida, but you would never know that by driving around the campus.

You'll see the Morsani College of Medicine, which his $20 million gift helped make possible. There is the Morsani Clinical Center. His fingerprints are all over the athletic department, honors college and business school.

"Frank actually didn?t want his name on the College of Medicine," said Joel Momberg, a USF vice president and CEO of the USF Foundation. "We had to convince him. His impact on this university is immense."

Let's not stop there. Just look around town.

There is the Carol Morsani Hall at the Straz Center, named for his wife. He has served on more boards and committees than I have space to name. His impact on Tampa will ripple for decades, and yet he really is one of the most humble and genuine human beings I have ever known.

He didn't want his name on the College of Medicine. That doesn't surprise me because he also didn't want an honor he will receive today – the Service Above Self Award from the Rotary Club. He deflected the praise and wanted it to go to someone younger, to kind of pass the torch.

But no, this is right. We will gather at a luncheon at the Glazer Children's Museum to salute a man I have been privileged to know for more than 20 years, dating to his pursuit of a baseball franchise for the area.

"Each of us has an obligation to give back to the community," said Rotary member Rolfe Arnhym. "It goes to the roots of what our country is all about."

The Tampa Tribune is a sponsor of the award, and even though I am not a Rotarian I was fortunate enough to serve with the group that chose Morsani. We chose well.

Morsani was born in Michigan and grew up on family farms in Oklahoma and Arkansas. There wasn't a lot of money, but that didn't matter.

"Nobody knew they were poor in the 1930s," he said. "Everybody looked out for each other. We learned to tithe early on. It was just a part of our lives.

"I've always felt that life is not a really long trip, so we have a responsibility to aid our fellow man and community. I have felt a responsibility to do as much as I can while I'm still walking on this Earth."

Four years in the Navy gave him national service. Oklahoma State University gave him the education he needed. And the auto business allowed him to acquire wealth, much of which he has returned to this and other communities.

Momberg said Morsani has given about $40 million total to USF, and that doesn't include what he has given to Oklahoma State and other causes and people too numerous to count.

"I look for people who could do something good if someone helped them," he said.

Momberg said Morsani is more than just someone who gives a lot of money. Along the way, they have become good friends.

"Something Frank espouses is to live your life in thirds," he said. "It's learn, earn and then return. Frank is living the third portion of his life now. He is returning."


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