Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette The Willis name was removed recently from the pedestrian bridge across Crescent Avenue serving IPFW students.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015 11:51 am

Businessman's name removed from bridge

Paul Wyche The Journal Gazette

A year after Donald Willis faced losing his home, the businessman has lost a bridge.

In 2003, Willis made a $3 million pledge to IPFW, which included contributing to the 246-foot walkway across Crescent Avenue – formally known as the Willis Family Bridge.

The Willis name was recently removed from the span.

The bridge cost $2.2 million. The university was responsible for 20 percent of the cost, the state Department of Transportation picked up 80 percent, and Willis’ gift was to offset other bridge costs.

Colleen Dixon, director of advancement services at IPFW, said the investor has not made good on his promise. The last payment the university received was in 2006, she said. Willis was to have finished paying the monetary gift next year.

"His intentions were always good," Dixon said, "but at some point, you have to follow through."

Willis’ contribution was to be divided equally for the bridge, for business, music and education scholarships and to the establishment of an endowed chair in entrepreneurship.

The endowed chair never materialized, but $1,000 annual student scholarships were awarded for a number of years, Dixon said.

When the pedestrian bridge was unveiled more than a decade ago, Willis’ donation was the largest gift in IPFW’s history. He was made the school’s first "entrepreneur in residence" at IPFW’s School of Business and Management Science.

The bridge’s supports rise 104 feet above Crescent. Willis has said the walkway symbolizes the connection between people and education.

Dixon said the school is seeking donors.

Willis declined to comment on the matter.

The Journal Gazette contacted his wife, Doris, at their Forest Park Boulevard home Wednesday. Doris Willis said she and her husband are doing fine but would rather not comment on the situation.

"Enough has been said," she said.

Last January, Allen County records revealed that foreclosure paperwork was filed against Willis’ home. U.S. Bank National Association was named as a plaintiff in court documents, but a scheduled sheriff’s sale was canceled.

The sprawling home is known for a pair of lions at the entrance of the house.

Willis left Magnavox to found Command System Inc. The company developed crisis management software for law enforcement and military personnel. It was sold to General Dynamics in 2002 for an estimated $100 million.

Willis has been connected with various enterprises since then, including a charter school.

pwyche@jg.net