2005 interview captures legacy of John Q. Hammons

Eric Olson, SBJ EditorAs I was reflecting on the legacy of John Q. Hammons and scanning through our editorial archives, I stumbled upon a column I wrote in July 2005. I was granted a face-to-face interview in his office in the John Q. Hammons Building, and we chatted on the record for about 15 minutes.

To my surprise this week, I found this column timeless. It almost felt as if I could have conducted the interview the day before his death (aside from a few statistical differences between the years).

The column is posted below in its entirety, and I hope you enjoy the memories of Hammons as much as I did. I’m not sure when there will be another businessman like him in the Queen City.

7/18/2005
Hammons synonymous with Springfield

First-time visitors to Springfield might think John Q. Hammons was the city’s founding father – or mayor, at least.

The Hammons name is everywhere. There’s Hammons Tower, Hammons Field, Hammons Parkway, Hammons Hall, Hammons Student Center, Hammons School of Architecture, Hammons Fountain, Hammons Heart Institute.

Hammons is synonymous with Springfield, so much so that it has jokingly been called Hammonsville.

But it’s in developments outside of Springfield where Hammons has really made a name for himself. Hammons has excelled in hotel development, through John Q. Hammons Hotels Inc., highlighted by being named the 2003 Corporate Hotelier of the World by Hotels magazine. That put him into an elite worldwide group.

Yet, it all comes back to Springfield. Hammons said it was a development roadblock in Springfield that led him into the hotel industry.

Before there was Battlefield Mall, Hammons owned 100 acres at Battlefield and Campbell and was working to get a mall property on it.

However, the city planning commission turned down his request to widen Battlefield, and Hammons said that spoiled his mall deal.

“I was really upset about that. That was the first rejection,” he said. “I got in the car, and I went out to California for about two weeks.

“That woke me up. That put me in the hotel business.”

He went on to build 163 hotel properties – first Holiday Inn, now Embassy Suites and Marriott. Hammons has six hotels under construction today. Even at 86 years old, Hammons said he tries to keep $300 million in development at all times.

But at 86, isn’t he tiring? Is retirement around the bend?

“Heaven’s no, I haven’t got time,” he said.

He tells the truth.

During a 15-minute interview, Hammons was interrupted three times by phone calls.

“I just needed to finish a deal,” he said upon returning. He was talking about Oklahoma City, where he already owns two hotels and plans to build two more.

Again, the focus shifts back to Springfield. Hammons said it is a good place for his company’s headquarters.

“There’s one thing I like about Springfield,” he said. “It’s located in the center of the United States,” which makes for easy travel to either coast but also shields residents from terrorism threats and coastal weather problems. “People ought to appreciate it more.”

Hammons is an Ozarks native, born in Newton County south of Joplin. He started developing in Springfield in 1947 and has built seven subdivisions, three shopping centers and three office buildings here, either alone or with partners.

Hammons claims to have had a hand in naming 86 Springfield streets – one for each year of his life.

His developments were behind the paving of Campbell Avenue from Grand to Sunshine; Bennett Street from Glenstone to Delaware; and Portland Street from Campbell to Fort.

He also worked to extend Grant Avenue from Grand to Sunshine.

With such a deep and well-publicized history in Springfield, the Hammons name will live beyond his years.

When asked how he would like his Springfield legacy remembered, Hammons stumbles uncharacteristically.

“I don’t know,” he finally gets out. “Look at the list of things I’ve done.”

The list would fill pages. Many items are philanthropic efforts, the common theme being educational partners.

Hammons’ donations have gone toward the development of the performing arts and student centers at Southwest Missouri State University, the school of architecture at Drury University and the fountain at Ozarks Technical Community College’s entrance.

He also introduced newspapers in the Springfield public schools 25 years ago and continues to sponsor the effort today.

The irony is that Hammons never finished college.

“I wasn’t smart enough,” he joked, then got serious. “The war caught me, and I had to interrupt my education. I went to work and made a living, so I guess I’m all right.”

Hammons isn’t done making lasting contributions.

“I’ve got one big one coming,” he said, “but I can’t talk about it.”

No doubt Springfield will be hearing about it. When he’s ready.

In remembrance of the life of John Q., has Hammons helped you or your business during the years? Or do you have a particular memory or story about his business dealings? Please leave a comment below or send answers to sbj@sbj.net.

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