Casey's General Stores founder donates $2.9M for Buena Vista University business program
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Casey's General Stores founder donates $2.9M for Buena Vista University business program

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Merchant, Lamberti Casey's

Buena Vista University President Joshua Merchant, left, is shown with Don Lamberti, founder and CEO of Casey's General Stores. Lamberti and his wife, Charlene, has donated $2.9-million to Buena Vista to establish a rural entrepreneurship program at the Storm Lake, Iowa, school.

STORM LAKE, Iowa -- Don Lamberti, founder and CEO of the Casey’s chain of convenience stores, has donated $2.9-million to Buena Vista University to establish a rural business incubator program at the Storm Lake school.

Gov. Kim Reynolds joined Buena Vista President Joshua Merchant at a ceremony in Des Moines Wednesday night to announce the Donald F. and Charlene K. Lamberti Center for Rural Entrepreneurship at BVU.

[Read more: Iowa Lakes Corridor joins forces with BVU in winning Google grant.]

"Their gift signals an exciting new era, making it possible for the university to bring business leaders together with our faculty and students as we strive to build and sustain strong, vibrant rural communities across our region,” Merchant said.

"Putting a visionary entrepreneur like Don Lamberti together with an academic leader like Buena Vista University, both champions of rural Iowa, can’t help but create a world of new opportunities for people of all ages across Iowa," Reynolds told the crowd of Iowa business and education leaders and BVU alumni who gathered at Gravitate Coworking.

The Lamberti Center is envisioned as a place where new businesses will grow as jobs are created. Programming and real-world business applications within curriculum will provide both students and professionals opportunities to sharpen their skills while aiding and challenging one another with a shared goal of moving rural America ahead.

College officials said the center, which will be served by a director and a Harold Walter Siebens School of Business faculty member/executive in residence specializing in entrepreneurship, also will stand as a resource for existing businesses across the region, allowing those enterprises, for example, to develop and fine-tune marketing campaigns and business plans with the assistance of BVU faculty members and students enrolled in related fields. Business leaders will have ample opportunities to share their experiences with students of any major as they join forces to better serve a growing region.

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Much of the instruction and teamwork within The Lamberti Center may occur in its idea incubator, a site to be called The Foundry at BVU, where business leaders and entrepreneurs may access training and resources made available by the University, strengthening existing partnerships to expand a growing mentoring network.

The Lamberti gift, coupled with an anonymous $500,000 donation, allows Buena Vista to move ahead in offering courses and programs while developing a minor in rural entrepreneurship available to all students. For business majors, advanced courses in entrepreneurship, management, marketing, accounting, finance, and enhanced practicum opportunities will be available as students delve into roles businesses and entrepreneurs play in transforming their communities.

“If students want to live and grow in rural areas, or anywhere in Iowa, this Center is for them,” said Merchant, who in 2018 was appointed by Reynolds to serve on the Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative Task Force.

Don Lamberti, a longtime member of the BVU Board of Trustees, built his first mom-and-pop convenience store in 1968 into Casey’s, a publicly traded enterprise that today boasts over 2,000 stores and nearly 15,000 employees. Many Casey's stores stand as a central hub of activity in rural towns.

“I’ve been blessed in my life, and throughout my career, by the people throughout the Midwest, especially in the rural communities across Iowa, the places and the people that gave Casey’s its start and have sustained it in on a successful path,” Lamberti said. “I’m honored to be able to share in this vision, this unique connecting of ideas and businesses across generations.”

The Lamberti Center for Rural Entrepreneurship becomes the second entity on campus bearing the Lamberti name. Don and Charlene Lamberti's multi-million-dollar leadership gift paved the way for the construction of the 65,000-square-foot Lamberti Recreation Center, a site dedicated to the health and welfare of BVU students and members of the community, a hub of physical activity at BVU since its opening in 2001.

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