$500,000 Gift Creates McKenzie Ballroom at Merket Alumni Center

Mickey and Barbara McKenzie give major boost to $4 million project.

Written by Renée Underwood

Michael “Mickey” and Barbara Esslinger McKenzie of Sulphur Springs are both graduates of Texas Tech University and active alumni.

Michael “Mickey” and Barbara Esslinger McKenzie of Sulphur Springs are both graduates of Texas Tech University and active alumni. High Resolution Image.

The $4 million capital campaign to double the meeting space in the Texas Tech Alumni Association (TTAA) Merket Alumni Center received a major boost Feb. 10 when a $500,000 donation by Michael “Mickey” and Barbara Esslinger McKenzie of Sulphur Springs was announced by Mark Griffin, member of the Texas Tech University Board of Regents.

The gift represents the single largest donation to the Building on Tradition Capital Campaign for the Peggy and Bill Dean Expansion of Merket Alumni Center. As a lasting tribute to Mickey, Barbara, their children – Chris and Mariah McKenzie Pheiffer, Ryan and KK Kirkley McKenzie – and their grandchildren, the new ballroom that will seat up to 600, will be named in their honor.

Since graduating from Texas Tech, the couple has remained loyal and active alumni. Barbara is serving as president of the TTAA National Board of Directors in 2009. She has served in various positions on the National Board of Directors since 2002.

“We love the alumni association, but the key to our gift is that Bill and Peggy Dean’s names are attached to the expansion,” Mickey said. “There is a genuine appreciation and admiration for the impact Bill Dean has had on our entire family. He has influenced so many people’s lives in a positive way. How many of us in college have someone who has made such a tremendous impact on them?”

Bill Dean served as adviser to the Texas Epsilon chapter of Phi Delta Theta when both Mickey and his son, Ryan, were members in college.

While they were attending Texas Tech, Mickey and Barbara were active in Phi Delta Theta and Zeta Tau Alpha. Barbara was a dorm legislator, served on the Women’s Residence Council and was a member of the Association of Women Students (AWS). She served as national publications officer for Angel Flight and on the Texas Tech Student Union Program Council.

The Mackenzie Grand Ballroom at the Merket Alumni Center at Texas Tech University

The new Mackenzie Grand Ballroom will seat up to 600 people. The donation is part of the Building on Tradition Campaign to expand Merket Alumni Center.
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Mickey graduated from Texas Tech in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in management, and Barbara, in 1968, with a bachelor’s degree in history. They married in 1969. She pursued a master’s degree at Texas A&M at Commerce and taught high school government for four years until their two children were born.

Mickey is CEO and chairman of the board of Grocery Supply Company (GSC), the fifth-largest wholesale distributor to convenience stores in the country. The Rawls College of Business Administration named him its Outstanding CEO in 2002.

Both Mickey and Barbara are tireless volunteers in their community and philanthropists who have generously supported many areas at Texas Tech.

During the news conference and reception for the McKenzies, Nelda Laney, who leads the underwriting effort for the capital campaign announced that $2.2 million has been raised since the campaign was announced last October. Rex Isom, who chairs the project steering committee, noted that TTAA is making plans for an early spring groundbreaking.

The expansion project will nearly double the present Merket Alumni Center by adding 10,694 square feet. A new second entrance into Merket Alumni Center will open into The Peggy and Bill Dean Grand Reception Hall. Three new banquet/meeting rooms will be constructed on the west end of the building. Other features include a new serving kitchen with storage; a new circulation, staging and planning office; a bride’s room and new restrooms. The existing kitchen will be remodeled into an office suite for the association’s marketing department. A second courtyard will be built to the east, featuring a gazebo and two large replicas of the official Texas Tech class ring.

First built in 1995 as an addition to the original President’s Home, Merket Alumni Center now hosts more than 800 events annually and is in high demand for weddings and receptions year round.

Several naming opportunities remain available for donors to the project, as well as brick pavers, bronze markers, marble pavers and granite benches for varying giving levels.

Watch the video detailing the Building on Tradition Project.

Watch the press conference announcing the new McKenzie Ballroom at Merket Alumni Center.