USF's Mode theater renamed the Robert Plaster Center

1/15/2015, 8:33 a.m.
Plaster's Foundation made a recent six-figure donation to the Joliet-based University of St. Francis, triggering the decision to rename the ...
University of St. Francis' Mode theater building in downtown Joliet has been renamed the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center. Times Weekly file photo

The University of St. Francis will name the former Mode theater building in downtown Joliet the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center, USF President Arvid C. Johnson announced.

The building is named in honor of philanthropist and entrepreneur, the late Robert W. Plaster, and "in recognition of a significant six-figure gift by The Robert W. Plaster Foundation," said Johnson.

"The educational experience of USF students is very much aligned with the values of Robert W. Plaster. As Mr. Plaster understood and valued hard work and education as the key to success, so, too, do University of St. Francis students and faculty," said Johnson.

"Also, just as Mr. Plaster was the first in his family to attend college, USF is proud to regularly welcome freshman classes of which more than 60 percent are first-generation college students. In light of these shared values and the connections between the missions of USF and that of the Plaster Foundation, we are very pleased to name this building in downtown Joliet in honor of Mr. Plaster."

Born during the Great Depression and the first in his family to attend college, Plaster understood and valued hard work and education as the key to success, according to Dolly Clement, executive director of The Robert W. Plaster Foundation and Plaster’s daughter. The Robert W. Plaster Foundation is headquartered in Lebanon, Mo.

Plaster’s success is evidence of his hard work and perseverance—from his boyhood paper route and grocery store job to work for the U.S. Treasury Department and later a propane company—that led to his own start-up business, Empire Gas Corporation, in 1963. Empire Gas rapidly became one of the largest retail LP gas distributors in the United States and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

After selling Empire Gas in 1996, Mr. Plaster founded Evergreen Investments, LLC.

Plaster was also co-founder and active supporter of Enactus, at that time known as Students in Free Enterprise. USF’s College of Business & Health Administration recently established a chapter to become a member of Enactus’ worldwide network of students, academic professionals and industry leaders.

"After achieving financial success my father felt very strongly that he wanted to help open educational opportunities for young people," added Clement. "To that end, in 1983, he established the Robert W. Plaster Foundation which is dedicated to helping students by funding projects for colleges and universities, such as this University of St. Francis enterprise, the former Mode Theater Building, now a state-of-the-art learning environment."

The University of St. Francis opened the former Mode Theater building in August 2014 after a $2.7 million interior and exterior renovation of the 18,000-square-foot building, including classrooms, a courtroom for mock trial activities, student study and leisure space, computer labs and offices. A business incubator is a major feature of the building and will support USF’s undergraduate and graduate

entrepreneurship degree programs.

The building, donated to USF by BMO Harris Bank, also houses the College of Arts & Sciences’ Recreation, Sport & Tourism Management and History, Political Science and Criminal & Social Justice degree programs. The College of Business & Health Administration’s Transportation & Logistics Management program is also based there.

USF also operates its Arts & Design programs and a gallery at the Rialto Square Theatre in downtown Joliet. USF’s downtown Joliet facilities combine to form the university’s St. Bonaventure Campus, said Johnson, who added that USF’s downtown facilities are part of a City of Joliet renovation plan that includes a $45 million City of Joliet transportation center; a $52 million Joliet Junior College campus construction project; and a proposed $150 million Will County courthouse complex.

The University of St. Francis Board of Trustees approved the building naming in October, noted Johnson.

"The University of St. Francis is grateful to The Robert W. Plaster Foundation for its significant gift to support students at the University of St. Francis," said Johnson. "We are looking forward to welcoming the Plaster Foundation—now part of the USF family—to a formal dedication in the spring."