Newman University lost a generous benefactor and a longstanding friend with the passing of Fran Jabara. The well-known and widely respected entrepreneur, professor and philanthropist died July 25. He was 90 years old.
“Professor Fran Jabara will be greatly missed by all of the Newman University community,” Newman President Noreen M. Carrocci, Ph.D. said in a story in the July 25 Wichita Eagle. “He served Newman exceptionally as a Board member, benefactor and counselor to presidents. I feel fortunate to call him a friend and like many, will miss his valuable wisdom, his kind nature and his optimistic outlook.”
Jabara was well known across the Wichita community for his business acumen, his work as a teacher and pioneering entrepreneur, and his support of individuals and organizations. He is especially remembered as a mentor to many of Wichita’s most successful businessmen.
The relationship between Jabara and Newman University reaches back more than four decades. Jabara was a member of the Board of Trustees for then-Sacred Heart College and Kansas Newman College from 1973 to 1984, during the tenures of Presidents Rev. Roman S. Galiardi, O.S.B. and Robert J. Giroux.
In 1994, Fran and his wife Geri (Ablah) Jabara established the Harvey J. and Leona J. Ablah Awards at Newman to honor the memory of Geri’s parents and to perpetuate their vision of entrepreneurism and the American dream. The awards have been presented annually to a graduating male and a graduating female student who exemplify the spirit of Newman University, and show great promise to make a strong and positive contribution to society. Each recipient received a $2,500 award. A plaque of each recipient and his and her chosen mentor is on display on the second floor of the Gorges Atrium.
In 1999, Fran and Geri Jabara received the Cardinal Newman Medal for their support of and service to Newman University, and in 2009 were awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters honors causa degree from Newman for their work in support of the Core Value Academic Excellence.
In addition to Newman, the Jabaras have established many student scholarship programs and provided generous philanthropic support to institutions of higher learning across the nation, including Wichita State University and Butler Community College.
The youngest of nine children, Francis Dwight Jabara was born in 1924 in Cambridge, Kan., grew up in Burden, Kan., and graduated at the top of his class from Burden High School. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, earned an accounting degree from Oklahoma A&M University, and earned his C.P.A. from Northwestern University.
Jabara taught accounting at WSU for 40 years, where he received many honors, and served as dean of the WSU business school for many years. In 1977, he established one of the first Centers for Entrepreneurship, at WSU, and served as its director until he resigned in 1989. The Jabaras have also helped establish academic entrepreneurship programs at universities nationwide.
After he left WSU, Jabara founded the private equity and investment firm Jabara Ventures Group with his son Harvey, who now operates the firm. Harvey was a Newman Board of Trustees member from 1995 to 2004. Both Harvey and his parents played important roles in supporting the Theatre Department at Newman. The Jabara Flexible Theatre is named for Harvey and his wife Missy (Hettich) Jabara for their generous gift that created the “black box” theatre in the De Mattias Fine Arts Center. Fran and Geri Jabara were instrumental in financially supporting the return of theatre to Newman. In tribute to their generosity, the Jabaras’ faces are embossed on a plaque outside the Jabara Theatre.
Among his many awards and appointments, Fran Jabara was chairman for the Kansas delegation to the 1986 White House Conference on Small Business, and received the Leavey Award of Excellence in Private Enterprise Education from the Freedom Foundation; the George Washington Honor Medal; the Ernst Young, Merrill Lynch, Inc. Magazine Award for Entrepreneur of the Year; the Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award and the Presidents Medal from WSU, and the Small Business Administration National Financial Services Advocate of the Year Award. He was named to the Kansas Business Hall of Fame in 2007.
In addition to his son Harvey and wife Geri, Fran Jabara is survived by sisters Helen Galloway and Duana Starks, daughters Leesa Jabara and Lori Simmons, and grandchildren Jaxon, Jensen and Elliott.