Generous Donors Propel Alabama Universities: A Look at Vital Contributions

Generous Donors Propel Alabama Universities: In the last couple of years, Alabama’s university alma maters have seen significant generosity. Jim Kennemer, an Alabama businessman, stands out among these philanthropists. His $2 million gift fueled the creation of the James C. Kennemer Center for Innovation and Social Impact at the University of Alabama.

Jim, also known as “Robo” by close friends, has been a longtime friend since our days at the University of Alabama in the ’70s. His affinity for computers, a cutting-edge concept in the ’70s, was apparent even then. Little did we know the profound impact these machines, and Jim’s expertise, would have on our lives.

Jim, a native of Tuscumbia, and his wife Nancy Pettus, who hails from Birmingham, celebrated 50 years of marriage. Together, they’ve not only built an empire but also generously given back to their alma mater.

The University of Alabama recently hosted a reception to announce the gift and the naming of the Kennemer Center, situated within the UA Honors College.

After completing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UA, Jim’s career took off. He designed the first fully programmable payment processing workstations, with the largest bank in the country as the inaugural customer. Jim’s innovative systems, handling around 12% of the U.S. GDP, became widespread.

Following success in the U.S., Jim ventured into England, eventually taking a company public on the London Stock Exchange. Back in Alabama, he continued to build successful companies, including Vision Research Corp., born out of a NASA-developed technology for early detection of eye problems in children.

Generous Donors Propel Alabama Universities

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Vision Research became Jim’s passion, impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. Growing up near Helen Keller’s birthplace, Jim’s commitment to vision care may well be inspired by this proximity.

Billy Jones, founder and CEO of Crowne Health, echoed this spirit of generosity with a $2 million gift to Troy University, his alma mater. The funds will support a new building named in his honor—a center for research in polymers and polymer recycling, primarily serving as a health science facility.

Jack Hawkins, Troy University’s chancellor, highlighted Jones’ significant contributions to healthcare in Alabama, emphasizing the impact of his 18 nursing homes and 2,000 employees. The longstanding relationship between Hawkins and Jones, who grew up together in Mobile, adds a personal touch to this tale of philanthropy in Alabama.