Phil Knight and Nike are part of the fabric of Eugene, Oregon, and the University of Oregon. It’s understandable since the cofounders of Nike are both tied to the university—Knight as an alumnus and former runner on the University of Oregon track team and Bill Bowerman as the track and field coach. Together they founded Nike, known as Blue Ribbon Shoes before it became Nike and before the swoosh was born. Phil Knight’s philanthropy has transformed the university; it’s interesting to look back and consider the road from student to philanthropist and the impact on Eugene.
The additions made to the University of Oregon, such as the Matthew Knight Arena and the William W. Knight Center, have helped to reshape the campus and opened up new areas of student housing development. “It’s simply true that the UO would not be among the nation’s leading public universities today without Phil and Penny’s well-timed investments during the last four decades,” said Mike Andreasen, vice president for advancement. “Their stunning generosity, combined with gifts from thousands who share their unbridled passion for this university, is elevating Oregon to a new level of excellence.” Read more about that here:
If you’ve read “Shoe Dog”, you know that Penny and Phil Knight lived modestly while white-knuckling it through many lean years before Nike went public and morphed into the swoosh worn around the world. Even so, as soon as they were able, they began giving back to the UO in a big way.
In the late 1960s Bill Bowerman, the man with the waffle iron and cofounder of Nike, offered René’s friend Terry a 10 percent stake in his newly formed company for $20,000. Terry turned him down because he didn’t have much faith in waffle-soled running shoes. Talk about a what if. Read more about the role a waffle iron played in the founding of Nike:
Department of Nike Archives The old waffle iron is brown with rust and broken into pieces. Yet there it sits in a protective case, smack in the middle of Prefontaine Hall at Nike’s World Headquarters near Beaverton, Oregon. Why treat a waffle iron like a museum piece?
The $1 billion science campus, the Penny Knight Campus, is scheduled to open in the spring of 2020, and will likely boost the university’s ranking among scientific research institutions. But many other university buildings were made possible by the generosity of Phil and Penny Knight and honor the people they care about: their mothers (Hatfield-Dowlin Complex) his father (William W. Knight Law Center), the extended family (Knight Library), their son (Matthew Knight Arena), a cherished friend and adviser (John E. Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes), and a role model for the ages (Marcus Mariota Sports Performance Center). You can read more about the role of philanthropy in shaping universities here:
There’s stiff competition, but in an era of university mega-gifts, Phil and Penny Knight may very well be the donors who end up having the biggest influence on a state through campus philanthropy. University of Oregon broke ground this month on a $1 billion science campus, with plans for three 70,000-square-foot buildings, anchored by $500 million in matching funds from the Knights.