Gary Sumers: Finding your balance

Sumers Recreation Center breaks ground April 11

An architect’s rendering of the new Gary M. Sumers Recreation Center.

Scheduled to open in fall 2016, the Gary M. Sumers Recreation Center at Washington University in St. Louis is part of a $54 million renovation and expansion of the university Athletic Complex — the first significant update since 1985.

Work will include a reimagining of historic Francis Gymnasium, a 66,500-square-foot addition with sweeping views of Francis Field, and an expanded sports medicine suite. A reconfigured entranceway will emphasize Francis Gym’s iconic towers as well as the path running eastward to Graham Chapel — a physical link between two important campus buildings and a symbolic connection of mind and body.

The project comes as part of Leading Together: The Campaign for Washington University, an important priority of which is the further strengthening of university teaching, research and living environments.

“We want our students to lead healthy, well-balanced lives, and the Sumers Recreation Center, with its state-of-the-art facilities, will promote this important goal,” said Justin Carroll, associate vice chancellor for students.

“Excitement, enthusiasm and engagement will all be strengthened by the Center,” Carroll said. “The Sumers Recreation Center will also serve to promote a strong sense of community by bringing students, faculty and staff together for informal interaction.”

A great sense of community

For Gary Sumers, the Athletic Complex always has been associated with community. A graduate of the College of Arts & Sciences, he credits his freshman-year roommate, Dave Lebioda (AB ’75), with introducing him to the western side of campus.

“Dave was a football player, a defensive lineman, and through him I met a lot of the other athletes,” he said. The complex became an important part of his social life, a place to exercise but also a place to bond and cheer for friends.

Returning to visit the Danforth Campus, Sumers is struck by the changes since his student days, but also by a deep sense of continuity.

“There’s a real commitment to academic standards,” he said. “The university has been focused, very appropriately, on recruiting top faculty and students and developing the best-quality housing and academic buildings. Architecturally, it’s as beautiful as any campus I’ve visited.

“There’s a great sense of community,” he said. The campus culture is one that challenges students with high expectations yet remains supportive and flexible about helping them to succeed.

“You’re not going to get lost in the crowd,” he said.

A place for everyone

That balance between individual and community is a defining trait of the Sumers Recreation Center.

“Part of becoming a well-rounded person is getting a great academic education,” Sumers said. “And of course, Washington University has spectacular academics.

“But students also need social experiences, because that’s part of growing up, too. And for those students that want it, they should have quality exercise facilities.

“I think it will be a great addition for students, as well as an important tool for recruiting,” Sumers concludes. The hope “is that the center will encourage socializing and bring people together in new ways.”

About Gary Sumers

A native of Teaneck, N.J., Gary Sumers graduated from Arts & Sciences Phi Beta Kappa in 1975 with a double-major in history and political science. He spent his junior year abroad at the London School of Economics and later earned a law degree from Northwestern University.

He served as managing director in charge of asset management at JMB Institutional Realty Corp. and as chief operating officer of General Growth Properties before joining the Blackstone Group in 1995. Until his retirement last year, he served as a senior managing director and as the chief operating officer of the Blackstone Real Estate Group, where he remains a senior adviser.

In addition to serving as a WUSTL trustee, Sumers is a member of the New York Regional Cabinet and on both the Arts & Sciences committee and the New York City executive committee for Leading Together. Active in Opening Doors to the Future: The Scholarship Initiative for Washington University, he has established both annual and endowed scholarships in memory of his late mother, Joan.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the Gary M. Sumers Recreation Center will begin at 4 p.m. Friday, April 11. A reception will immediately follow in the Athletic Complex, located near the intersection of Big Bend and Forsyth boulevards.

For more information or to RSVP, call 314-935-3911 or email