When the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families opened in October 2014, it served less than 600 students.
Five years later, with more than 1,700 students with military ties, the center has outgrown its original facility in a renovated house on the university’s west end.
The university on Friday announced plans to build a new $2.4 million facility to better serve its military students. The building will be 100% privately funded.
Southern Miss already is the top military-friendly school in the state because of the center and services offered to active military, veterans and their families.
Charlie Webb, a Navy veteran who retired 22 years ago, said he appreciates what the university is doing to help those who serve or have served their country.
“There was nothing like this for me when I retired,” he said. “Having these assets available to students where they don’t have to run and hunt and kick and beg to get the things they need all in one location is outstanding. I wish we had had something like this.”
Rickey Hosey, a graduate of Southern Miss who participated in the school’s ROTC program, said he appreciates his alma mater’s efforts to help veterans. He thinks the new Hall of Honor will be a great addition to the community and will attract more veterans to the university and Hattiesburg.
“I’m just so excited to see what they are doing for veterans who are coming back from overseas,” he said. “They need a place to go to decompress. They need to be around other veterans of like mind. This is wonderful.
“I’m very proud of Gen. Hammond and Dr. Bennett and what they’ve done to support us.”
The center’s new building will be named the Quinlan-Hammond Hall of Honor, for benefactor Joe Quinlan, a Marine Corps veteran, and director, retired Gen. Jeff Hammond.
Several early supporters, including Quinlan and his wife, Suzanne Quinlan, contributed around $1.8 million of the $2.4 million needed to built and furnish the center, said Megan Burkes, associate director for public relations and donor programs at the USM Foundation.
Quinlan said he hopes the remaining $600,000 will be raised by November. Any additional monies raised would be used for an endowment to further assist military students.
The veterans center provides a comprehensive, military-friendly, education support program that successfully attracts military veterans, service members, family members and survivors to pursue academic and professional development interests.
Services offered include help with application, admission, matriculation, graduation and professional placement.
Cory Parker, a 29-year-old senior from Bay Springs and Marine Corps veteran who now serves in the Army National Guard, said the Hall of Honor will enhance what the university has to offer students in the military.
“We’re in a good center and everything, but this is going to be a great addition,” he said. “This is going to help us extremely.”
Parker said he has taken advantage of what the center has to offer, and it has helped him as a student and a person.
“It’s helped me to become well-rounded, better focused and driven helped me to stay on task and continue to succeed,” he said.
The Quinlan-Hammond Hall of Honor will be located at the corner of Pearl Street and 35th Avenue. The center expects to break ground on the facility in the summer and be able to serve students in Fall 2020, Burkes said.
The building, designed by Spring Engineering, is designed to optimize comfort and purpose for the military students, said CEO Rich Bekesh, a Southern Miss alum.
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