Melvin Simon, co-owner of the Indiana Pacers, co-founder and chairman emeritus of the Simon Property Group that owns Campus Mall and major philanthropist to IU, died Wednesday morning at the age of 82.
Simon and his family donated more than $70 million to IU for building projects and program funding.
The Bess Meshulam Simon Music Library and Recital Center has been used by thousands of professors and students in the Jacobs School of Music since its opening in 1995.
Simon and his wife, Bren, contributed $50 million to the Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center at the IU School of Medicine in Indianapolis.
Most recently, his family’s name appears on Simon Hall, the new life sciences building completed in 2007 on the Bloomington campus.
In short, he provided Hoosiers with endless opportunities and resources to become successful.
“Mel was extremely generous by nature,” IU President Michael McRobbie said in a statement. “As soon as he began to prosper in his career, he thought about how he and his family could use their resources to help others. Mel Simon has left an indelible imprint on so many worthy causes, including IU.”
Dr. Craig Brater, dean of the IU Medical School, said Simon’s $50 million contribution helped put the school over the top.
“Those are the kind of gifts that really transform a place,” Brater said. “They determine whether you stay at a level of good or go to a level of great. You can not underestimate the importance of what Mel and Bren did for IU with their gifts. Mel’s an example for all of us.”
Simon, who earned an honorary doctorate from the Kelley School of Business, and his brother, Herbert Simon, built Simon Property Group, the nation’s largest shopping mall company.
The brothers also bought the Indiana Pacers in 1983 when the team was prepared to leave Indianapolis.
IU Athletics Director Fred Glass did not know Mel Simon on a personal level, but he said he has always had a great deal of respect for the billionaire entrepreneur.
“He and his brother came from nothing to establish one of the largest corporations of its kind in the country,” Glass said. “It was so important for central Indiana because it provided jobs, economic development and opportunities for people. It’s people like the Simon brothers that start businesses and create jobs so that people cannot only go to school here, they can stay in Indiana and make a life here.”
As much as Simon meant to the development of Indianapolis in an economic sense, his position as co-owner of the Pacers was also incredibly important.
The Simon brothers took charge of the Pacers at one of the lowest points in the franchise’s history. Indiana was coming off of a 20-62 season in 1982 and was averaging fewer than 5,000 fans each game.
The situation changed under the leadership of the Simon brothers, and the team has experienced a great deal of success during the last 25 years, highlighted by a trip to the NBA Finals in 2000.
“As an owner of the Pacers, (Mel Simon) was a joy to work for and a joy to work with,” Larry Bird, Pacers president of basketball operations, said in a statement. “But he wasn’t only an owner, he was the biggest and best Pacers fan. I will miss him and the Pacers family will miss him.”
Glass said Simon’s loss will definitely be felt in the sports world.
“Thankfully the Simon family remains with his brother, Herb, and his son, David, and they will certainly carry the family torch, but losing Mel Simon is huge,” Glass said.
“There aren’t that many giants in the (sports) business in the country, let alone Indiana.”
Simon is survived by his wife Bren; his children, Deborah Simon, Cynthia Scott Skjodt,
David Simon and Tammy McCauley; and his brothers Fred and Herbert. His funeral will be at 11 a.m., Friday at the Congregation Beth-El Zedeck at 600 W. 70th St. A private internment will follow.