If you didn't know otherwise, you'd assume Don and Marsha Hire are diehard UAB alumni.
And you'd be half-right, because the "diehard" part fits the pair perfectly. A steady presence at UAB athletics events, they are loyal supporters of the Schools of Optometry and Medicine and generous donors to the programs they find most meaningful across campus.
But neither is a UAB graduate, and neither grew up in Birmingham.
So what's the tie that binds the Hires to UAB? Turns out it began with Gene Bartow.
Don Hire, a Memphis State University graduate who met his future wife in high school in El Dorado, Arkansas, was working for Armstrong Relocation in Memphis in the early 1970s, when Bartow coached the Memphis State basketball team to consecutive conference titles in 1972 and 1973, and to the 1973 NCAA national championship game. "That program had been in the doldrums," he recalls. "It was a great time for the school, and my partners in the company were close to Gene."
In 1977, the Hires bought into the moving company's Birmingham office; shortly after they moved to the Magic City, UAB hired Bartow away from UCLA to create an athletic program.
"Because of our mutual ties to Memphis, we got to know Gene here, and saw where he wanted to go with the program, and wanted to be part of it," he says. "We were the first paying members of the Golden 100 Club in 1978."
Bartow served as the school's first head basketball coach and athletic director for 18 years, leading UAB to the National Invitation Tournament in the program's second year of existence. He followed that up with seven straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including trips to the Sweet 16 in 1981 and the Elite Eight in 1982.
Every step of the way, Don and Marsha Hire were there—not just because of their friendship with Bartow, but also because of their growing connection to their adopted hometown.
"Back then, we were new to Birmingham, and met a lot of other people who were involved, and had a lot of fun attending games," Don Hire says. "I even served as president of the Rebounders Club one year. Gene had a vision, and it was fun to watch him succeed."
When UAB launched its football program in 1994, the Hires were among the first season ticket holders. "I feel that for the university to prosper, you have to have athletics for the students to rally around," says Hire, who played offensive and defensive tackle in high school. "Football was the culmination of several dreams, and we enjoyed being on the ground floor."
In the late 1990s, the couple was poised to return to Memphis, but ultimately declined. "Birmingham had become our home," Mrs. Hire says.
Their gifts to establish scholarships in the Schools of Medicine and Optometry were created through a charitable remainder trust that provided income for Don Hire's parents until their deaths, with UAB receiving the remaining funds. And when the opportunity to name the Student Athlete Academic Center was presented to them in 2008, they eagerly said yes.
"Both of our fathers went to college on athletics scholarships, and Don was born while his dad was playing basketball on scholarship," Mrs. Hire says. "College allowed them to be successful in business and in life, and so we wanted to honor our parents while they were still alive by naming the center. The whole family came to the dedication."
The Hires stepped up again to help fund the return of UAB Football in fall 2017, with Don Hire helping to rally other community leaders whose gifts have supported the new Football Operations Center and Legacy Pavilion practice field and other operational needs. "Bringing football back was not just about football," he says. "It's important to the community for UAB to continue to grow."
Over the years, the Hires have seen UAB—and UAB athletics—grow, and have generously funded that growth. "When we came here, UAB was a few buildings and a library," Don Hire says. "Look around now and see how everything has changed—UAB is in every direction, with more to come.
"It's an interesting success story, and being here to see it has been a wonderful experience."
Take the Next Step
Like the Hires, you can leave a lasting legacy at UAB. Every donation, no matter the size, makes a great impact. Contact the Office of Planned Giving at (205) 996-7533 or firstname.lastname@example.org today to learn more.
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Kimberley S. Coppock, J.D.
Sr. Director of Development
Office of Planned Giving
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