Henry Dale and Betty Smith Recognized with $20 Million Gift to U of I

Football Performance Center to be Named in Honor of Springfield Couple


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The H.D. Smith Foundation, led by Dale and Chris Smith, has announced a donation of $20 million to the University of Illinois Foundation, with $15 million dedicated to the Fighting Illini Football Performance Center. In recognition of the gift, the building will forever be named the Henry Dale and Betty Smith Football Center.


The gift marks the largest philanthropic donation in the history of the DIA.


“To say a simple ‘thank you’ for such an extraordinary gift fails to do justice to the generous investment the Smiths have chosen to make in Illinois Athletics and, specifically, our football program,” Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman said. “It has been my privilege getting to know Dale and Chris since my arrival on campus. For years they have been loyal to the University and supportive of our bold vision for this department. Their investment today will dramatically change our program, and the coming success of the Fighting Illini will be forever tied to them.”


The Smith gift will support three initiatives. In addition to the $15 million for the football performance center, the gift will create scholarship opportunities with $3 million for former student-athletes to return to campus for degree completion. The gift also allocates $2 million toward the Illinois Carle College of Medicine for innovation at the intersection of medicine, engineering, and athletics.


“We are incredibly excited to be able to honor our parents’ legacy in this way,” Dale Smith said. “Athletics, and in particular Illinois sports, were a big part of their way of life. They loved Central Illinois, their home for more than 60 years, and my mother is thrilled their support will help to build pride in this region through continued University success.”


Chris [Illinois ‘79] and Dale Smith are honoring their late father, Henry Dale, and mother, Betty, and their great passion for Illinois football. Betty, at 88-years-old, still attends as many Fighting Illini contests as possible.


“Dale and I have had the chance to get to know Josh (Whitman) and Coach Lovie Smith and we wouldn’t be making this gift if we didn’t believe strongly in their leadership,” Chris Smith said. “We see their commitment to making Illinois Football a national championship caliber program and are proud to be the lynchpin in making the performance center a reality.”


The Smith family came to Central Illinois in 1953 from South Carolina and founded H.D. Smith in 1954, which became a national medical wholesaler, providing services and solutions for healthcare providers. Chris graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1979. He and Dale have been loyal supporters of the I FUND for more than two decades as Loyalty Circle Endowment members and season ticket holders for both football and men’s basketball.


“Working with the Smiths for more than a decade has been so very impactful,” Senior Associate Athletics Director Howard Milton said. “Seldom do you find such generous friends of the program whose values, passion and vision align so perfectly with that of our institution. This gift is just another example of the trust numerous donors have in our leadership.”


The Henry Dale and Betty Smith Football Center will be a 107,650-square foot facility adjoining the south end of the Irwin Indoor Practice Facility. The facility will feature new and expanded strength and conditioning and sports medicine space, coaches’ offices, position meeting rooms, player development areas, locker rooms, and other areas for recruiting and prospect hosting. Construction of the new football performance center will be completed prior to the 2019 season. The building naming is pending approval by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.


The gift counts towards the $300 million fundraising goal for the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, which is part of “With Illinois,” the recently announced $2.25 billion University-wide fundraising campaign.