Springfield developer and philanthropist John Q. Hammons, who once sold rabbit pelts for a nickel to get through the Great Depression has died in a Springfield nursing home. He was 94.
Hammons, born James Quentin Hammons, was the son of a Fairview dairy farmer and his wife who lost their farm during the Depression. He told a biographer a few years ago that his experiences in the Depression led him to swear he would never be poor again.
He helped his family through the depression by killing rabbits and selling their hides for a nickel when he was 12. But he told the Springfield News-Leader a few years ago that he learned a valuable business lesson when a competitor suddenly emerged.
The newspaper has videos of two interviews with Hammons on its webpage today: news-leader.com.
Hammons became a junior high school teacher of science and history, and basketball coach in Cassville after receiving his teaching certificate from what was then Southwest Missouri State Teachers College in 1939. His basketball teams lost only one game in two seasons.
He spent a couple of years during World War II as a cost accountant with the Iowa company building the Alaska-Canadian (ALCAN) Highway. From 1943 until the end of the war, he served in the Merchant Marine working on supply ships in the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.
He began a company after the war that made mortar-less bricks. When that company went bankrupt, Hammons turned to subdivision development and later, in 1958, with a partner, bought ten Holiday Inn franchises. From that beginning, Hammons’ company developed 210 hotels in 40 states, focusing on state capitals and college towns.
His developments made him a billionaire often listed in Forbes Magazine as one of the wealthiest men in America. He gave away millions of dollars to higher education institutions, especially to what is now Missouri State University, to hospitals, and the public broadcasting.
Hammons was involved in sports from his days as a schoolboy. His interest continued into his late life. The minor league baseball stadium and the Missouri State University field house carry his name. He built the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame facility in Springfield.
Another building he financed is the Juanita K. Hammons Performing Arts Center on the Missouri State Campus, named for his wife of 64 years who survives him.