When Adrian Autry ’94 led the Syracuse University men’s basketball team into action against the University of New Hampshire to open the 2023-24 season, there were many familiar faces in the stands inside the JMA Wireless Dome cheering on the…
A $2 Million Gift to the John A. Lally Athletics Complex to Strengthen the Student-Athlete Experience
Michael Bill ’58 was a top student-athlete at Syracuse University, a center on the highly ranked football team that went to the Cotton Bowl. After graduation, he lost touch with his alma mater, but never lost the Orange spirit. In fact, his wife Sharon recalls that when they met and married in the 1970s, Mike told her: “If I get a chance, I’m going to give back to Syracuse University. They gave me the foundation for my success in business.”
That sense of gratitude—and the desire to see other student-athletes succeed—is the motivation behind the Bill family’s latest gift to the Forever Orange Campaign. Mike and Sharon Bill have pledged $2 million to support the John A. Lally Athletics Complex, a state-of-the-art academic and athletics center designed to benefit all student-athletes and enhance the entire student experience.
In honor of their generosity, the new football locker room will be named the Michael M. Bill #59 Football Locker Room, acknowledging Mike’s legacy on the field (he wore #59) and his continuing support off the field.
“Mike and Sharon’s commitment to Syracuse Athletics and our student-athletes is remarkable,” says Director of Athletics John Wildhack. “Their passion inspires all of us and their support of the Lally Athletics Complex will significantly aid in our efforts to recruit student-athletes who excel academically and athletically.”
“To attract talented young men and women, colleges have to have a great athletics complex,” says Mike. “Better recruiting means better teams. And, in the case of football especially, great teams help build donor support. We see this as a long-term investment and a very good investment in the future of the Orange.”
Mike says his experience as a student-athlete at Syracuse University in the 1950s truly defined him. He had been an outstanding athlete at Garden City High School on Long Island, New York, playing basketball, football, baseball and track. He was courted by several universities, all offering scholarships. He played high school basketball against Jim Brown and was impressed that Brown had chosen Syracuse University (he was a year ahead of him in school). But what sealed the deal with Syracuse for Mike was the University’s academic reputation.
“Academics were extremely important to my Dad,” says Mike. “My high school baseball coach was also a history teacher and a Syracuse University graduate. He took me to visit Syracuse.” After that visit, Mike was all in.
“Syracuse really took care of me,” says Mike. “They gave me a scholarship and an education. If you wanted to play, you had to play hard and study hard. It’s really a time management skill.” He credits his coaches with improving his performance and nurturing a “linebacker mentality.” He had strength and speed.
After graduation—even with an invitation to join the Green Bay Packers—Mike set new goals and focused his energy on business. So with his history degree, an entrepreneurial spirit (and well-honed time management skills!), Mike became a respected entrepreneur and built MJ Insurance, one of the top 100 privately held insurance agencies in the country. He also founded company subsidiaries, Omnibus Financial, a finance vehicle for premiums; Benefit Design and Administrators, a third-party administrator; and Omnibus Insurance, products for the mining industry.
Once successful in business, he got reconnected to his alma mater. He was invited to join the Board of Trustees in 2001, serving as Audit Committee chair for several years. Both Mike and Sharon visited campus frequently.
“The Board includes the spouses in campus activities,” says Sharon. “I went to classes and met the deans. I saw how everyone was working together for the good of the students, to make their experience better and to give them more.” That’s what motivated the Bills to support the Ernie Davis 44 Endowed Football Scholarship and create the Sharon C. Bill and Michael M. Bill Endowed Football Scholarship which, each year, aims to bring the best and brightest to Syracuse.
“Both the physical and intellectual are important,” says Mike. “We believe that if these young men and women have a high-level experience at Syracuse they will continue on as enthusiastic alumni and donors.”
Sharon says that when she looks up to Mike (she’s only 5’8” and he is 6’3”), she sees “someone who has always been very determined, who always set goals and had a plan for how he was going to achieve what he was going to achieve. And I think a lot of that comes from football. To carry out a plan and know where you must go to reach the goal.”
Their shared goal: to see the Lally Athletics Complex come to fruition, and set the stage for successful students and alumni, on and off the playing field.
About Syracuse University
Syracuse University is a private research university that advances knowledge across disciplines to drive breakthrough discoveries and breakout leadership. Our collection of 13 schools and colleges with over 200 customizable majors closes the gap between education and action, so students can take on the world. In and beyond the classroom, we connect people, perspectives and practices to solve interconnected challenges with interdisciplinary approaches. Together, we’re a powerful community that moves ideas, individuals and impact beyond what’s possible.
About Forever Orange: The Campaign for Syracuse University
Orange isn’t just our color. It’s our promise to leave the world better than we found it. Forever Orange: The Campaign for Syracuse University is poised to do just that. Fueled by 150 years of fearless firsts, together we can enhance academic excellence, transform the student experience and expand unique opportunities for learning and growth. Forever Orange endeavors to raise $1.5 billion in philanthropic support, inspire 125,000 individual donors to participate in the campaign, and actively engage one in five alumni in the life of the University. Now is the time to show the world what Orange can do. Visit foreverorange.syr.edu to learn more.