Sister Kathleen Kelly first met William Hannon when she and Sister Magdalen Coughlin went to his office on Manchester Avenue in Westchester in the late 1980s with the goal of raising money for the Mount. Kelly was the Mount’s vice president, a position that has since been eliminated, and Couglin was the president. Hannon explained to the sisters that he didn’t give money to any organization or foundation that he couldn’t see from his office, to which the delighted women pointed to the campus through the window. His reply: “You got me, sisters.” Those four words marked the start of a long, fruitful relationship. Hannon had long admired the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and appreciated their work, and he became an ardent supporter of Mount Saint Mary’s.
Hannon (1913-1999) made his fortune as a real estate developer, mainly in Westchester and surrounding areas. But he never lost sight of the road he traveled to get there. Unable to afford to send him to college, his parents made a deal with the president of Loyola University (now Loyola Marymount University) that if their son could enroll as a student that he would pay back the tuition from his future earnings.
He paid it all back and then some. And although LMU rightfully has benefitted, so have numerous other Catholic high schools and colleges, including the Mount, through the Bill Hannon Foundation. The Mount has been a recipient of the foundation’s annual expendable scholarship funds every year since the scholarship program was launched in 2012. Overall, the foundation has provided the Mount with $810,000 in scholarship support to date.
Kelly says that despite his wealth, Hannon was generous and unassuming. “There was a Denny’s coffee shop across the street from his office,” she says, “and he would hold a lot of his meetings there. He was just such a humble, good man. He never put on a show; he was just who he was. A delightful man.”
Two foundations bear his name. The William H. Hannon Foundation, founded in 1983, provides a wide variety of grants for social services and community projects, such as hospitals, and its educational vision focuses on elementary schools, although it has also generously supported the Mount for 40 years by supporting student scholarships and capital improvements. The Bill Hannon Foundation, which was founded in 2002 shortly before Hannon passed away, concentrates its efforts on Catholic high schools and universities. The original foundation’s board was made up of his family members, and Hannon wanted the second organization to be comprised of people from various walks of life. Elaine Ewen, Hannon’s lawyer, was his pick to be the executive director, and Kelly has been a board member since its inception.
The Bill Hannon Foundation focuses on tuition assistance in the form of scholarships, recognizing that many students would not otherwise be able to complete their educations. This year, the foundation was able to provide selected schools with up to $150,000 in additional funds as an emergency COVID-relief measure; the Mount applied for, and received, the maximum allocation.
At its discretion, in any given year the foundation also provides generous capital support to projects that provide crucial infrastructure for students they pursue their educations. Through the years, the Bill Hannon Foundation has provided the Mount with $10.75M in capital funding and renovation support including lead funding for MSMU’s future Wellness Pavilion and Hannon Hall student residence on the Doheny Campus.
Even as it helps make campus-wide transformations possible, the Bill Hannon Foundation keeps individual scholarships at its core, giving students the opportunity to pursue their educations. “In the past few years, we have concentrated on tuition assistance because it seems to be the greatest need,” says Kelly. Approximately 15 colleges and 25 high schools apply each year for scholarship assistance, as funding is not automatic, and there is a maximum amount any institution can receive each year; most recently that amount was $150,000. Once the funds are distributed, the foundation has no direct role in their use. It doesn’t help choose which students will receive a scholarship or for how much.
Many of the students send letters to the foundation expressing their appreciation for the scholarships and that some schools send little biographies of the students who have been helped. “That puts a personal touch on it,” Kelly says, “and that’s very appealing to foundations and appealing to us. So it is always good for the institutions to do that.
“In many cases, these students are the first one in their family to go to high school and certainly the first one in their family to go to college,” she continues. “I have visited student homes and some are living in poverty, but the parents are very committed to their children receiving a quality, faith-based education where the values of the home are reinforced — the values of compassion and caring for others, of being of service. In many cases, they not only help their families, but they also are very service oriented and give back to the community.”
Hannon was impressed with many aspects of the Mount, but he really appreciated that the University is educating so many first-generation women graduates. “He liked that the Mount educated leaders and women who were self-confident,” says Kelly, “and he appreciated the diversity of the students. He also really liked the idea of the Weekend College. Mr. Hannon was very practical, but he also appreciated innovation and doing things differently.”
What does Kelly think Hannon would most appreciate about what the Mount has accomplished since his passing? “I think he would have been really pleased with the growth of the Women’s Leadership program,” she said without a moment’s hesitation, adding that his practical side would have appreciated all the facts and figures behind each year’s Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California™. She also believes that Mr. Hannon would have been pleased with the partnerships that the Mount has established with organizations such as the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and the Women’s College Coalition.
Finally, Kelly is confident that Hannon would agree with her assessment of Ann McElaney-Johnson, Mount Saint Mary’s president. “She’s done a wonderful job,” she says. “She’s a gift to the Mount, and she’s also on our board. I think she’s a great leader and a great visionary. I hope we can keep her forever.”