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May 4, 2012
When Bill O’Riley enrolled at Northwest Missouri State University he was 23 years old, married and a new father. He was five years into managing a 240-acre farm and he was barely earning enough income to support his family.
But he had a strong work ethic and he knew a college education could help him reach his full potential.
Now retired after a successful business career, O’Riley is giving back to Northwest as a tribute to all of the people who helped him earn two college degrees and to help others who need assistance with attaining their college goals.
O’Riley’s $50,000 endowment has established the Iowa Bill O’Riley Family Scholarship program, which will assist a Northwest junior or senior who is majoring in marketing or management. Preference will be given to a married student who graduated from a high school in Iowa.
“I didn’t have any money when I came to Northwest and people helped me,” said O’Riley, who retired in 1999 as a sales manager with General Electric Capital Mortgage Insurance and resides in West Des Moines, Iowa. “I was a guy who went from starting at 4 in the morning, grinding feed and driving a school bus 120 miles in the morning, 240 miles a day, and picking corn and wrestling cows. Everybody said when I left the farm I wouldn’t make it, so I didn’t want to fail.”
Having grown up on a farm in southwest Iowa, O’Riley attended grade school in Villisca and figured he was destined for a farming career.
Things began to change for O’Riley, however, when a neighbor left his farm to earn a degree at Northwest. The neighbor, Roy Dwyer – whose landlord was Northwest chemistry professor J. Gordon Strong – earned his chemistry degree from Northwest in 1964 and convinced O’Riley he should enroll at Northwest, too.
“He was responsible for motivating me in taking the entrance exam,” O’Riley said of Dwyer.
O’Riley got some money and obtained housing. In 1964, he began working toward his degree while working at Sherman Bros. Lightning Rod in Maryville to pay for his schooling. O’Riley, who studied business and physical education, also credits his advisor, Dr. Burton Richey, for taking him under his wing.
O’Riley completed his bachelor’s degree in three years. After college he spent time teaching business courses and coaching football in Harlan and Clarinda, both in Iowa.
One of his students was Mike Johnson, who today serves as Northwest’s vice president of university advancement.
“I've known Coach O’Riley for over 30 years and have always admired and respected his leadership qualities,” Johnson said. “He's an extraordinary motivator that expects and gets the best of all he interacts with. This family gift is a true testament of the hard work and the value of education ‘Coach O’ challenges and supports in future Bearcats.”
With the help of some additional connections he had made, O’Riley eventually found his niche in the savings and loan industry and was recruited for a sales position at General Electric. During his tenure with the company he helped increase its market share to levels it had not seen and was responsible for direct sales in at least 11 states.
While O’Riley attributes his business success to hard work, preparation and planning down to the smallest details, he also is grateful to the people who mentored him along the way.“You’re going to get knocked down, and it’s not why you get knocked down, it’s how you get up,” O’Riley said. “I’m a proponent of the fact that it’s not what you have accomplished, nor is it what you are going to accomplish. I believe strongly it’s what you leave behind for the people coming behind you that makes their life better, and that it matters.”
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468