A Great Pioneer for Adventist Education Passes

Posted on April 29th, 2014
Celebrating the life of Stewart Bainum – mentor to the Renaissance Network.
– by Byron DeFoor, AAF Board Member


0308-HS-8rI first met Mr. Stewart Bainum on April 25, 2010. He candidly asked me, “Five years from now if I have the money to help your foundation accomplish your vision, will the Renaissance Network be sustainable? Is the dream of Adventist education still available?” My answer was, “Yes! That’s exactly what we are working toward.”

And that’s where it all began. I would receive a call from Mr. Bainum’s long-time colleague, Judy Power, and she would lightheartedly say, “The boss wants you to come to Washington, D.C. to see him.” So, I would go. Our time together was memorable as he would tell me many stories about his life.

He would share memories of being a plumber, building houses and apartments, establishing the great Manor Care health services, and ultimately founding the hotel chain that became globally known as Choice Hotels International.

I think the day we really connected was when I told him a story about another great hotel businessman I had met, Mr. Kemmons Wilson, founder of Holiday Inn. Mr. Bainum’s eyes lit up, then told me that they were good friends. He proceeded to describe Mr. Wilson’s savvy business sense.

Mr. Bainum told me inspiring stories about how they discovered ways to develop chains of hotels from coast to coast with the first streamlined reservations system, which would later become known internationally.DSC_7515 He shared that Mr. Wilson let CBS stay at his Holiday Inn at Cocoa Beach for free while covering the Apollo 13 story. The world watched Walter Cronkite broadcast the nightly news from in front of the Holiday Inn sign. The hotel chain was instantly made famous.

He also told me a story about when they were both invited to be guest speakers at a hotel convention. The afternoon of their speaking engagement they started a tennis match that ended up lasting for hours. After the sun was long set and with a large audience waiting to hear them speak, they continued the tied tennis match. Eventually, the staff running the convention came out and shut off the court lights insisting they come in – the guests had finished their dinner and could not be stalled any longer!

Stories like these were endearing to me – to know a person of such a high caliber who was also so down to earth and willing to share his stories with somebody like me. Our Foundation wanted to share a vision to ensure Adventist education would be the greatest education the world had to offer. Mr. Bainum offered me so much more than a listening ear for that vision – he extended his friendship.

E15As I enjoyed these times and stories with Mr. Bainum, I learned about his personality and how strong a grasp he had on business. When it came to the Renaissance Network, he believed in the idea, and he wanted a plan from us that was based on facts and a planned outcome. He even wanted a backup plan if our initial deal didn’t work.

On one occasion, I traveled to Florida to visit with him to ask for $700,000. I explained that the money was to be used for our first Renaissance school, Thunderbird Adventist Academy. If the school’s administration was ever going to have a chance of growing the student body, then they desperately needed to restore the dormitories; along with the other buildings around campus. When I finished my initial proposal, he immediately told me I sounded like a consultant. Surprised, I asked what he meant by consultant. He joked, “Most consultants are eager to get married, yet they never had a date!” Obviously, what he was telling me was I had asked for too much money.DSC_7243

At that point, I thought he was not going to do the deal, but his wife Jane so kindly brought us cookies and iced tea that we continued talking through the afternoon about everything – except money. As I was leaving, Mr. Bainum said, “I’ll tell you what – I’ll give you half and you raise the other half.”

Upon my return, Melanie Litchfield, Director of the Alumni Awards Foundation, and I organized a dinner to try to raise the matching funds. We ended up raising only about $130,000. I had to confess to Mr. Bainum the roadblocks we hit with many Adventist philanthropists who were concerned with church politics. I will never forget what he told me… “Byron, our job is not to settle discrepancies in church policies. We are here to do the job that is at hand and provide the best Adventist education possible.” Looking back, I realize that Mr. Bainum knew what we could and could not do.

B2At that point, we began the work at Thunderbird with the $130,000 we raised. I eventually borrowed the rest of the money against my farm so that I could match Mr. Bainum’s gift. Then the Commonweal Foundation, which was founded by Mr. Bainum in 1968, also provided additional matching funds. After it was all said and done, Mr. Bainum not only made a financial contribution, but ultimately through his influence a Maranatha team was sent to Thunderbird saving the academy an untold amount of money in volunteer labor. He was truly our life-line as we began the Renaissance Network. Mr. Bainum surpassed what we ever dreamed could happen and set-up an investment that would fund dollars to the Renaissance Network for the next five years to support our start-up.

What we learned from Mr. Bainum is that successful people are weary of being manipulated.  They want to give money (often more than you request), but they expect you to use the investment responsibly. Mr. Bainum challenged me and the Foundation on our vision to operate multiple Adventist academies. He wanted a defensible plan and a back-up plan.

His life of giving back was a profound example of how we all need to build hope and awareness for Christian education and more specifically the Adventist education system.

The sun has set on a great Adventist entrepreneur, but his dream continues to live. To you, Mr. Bainum, YES – the dream of Adventist education is still available. 


Byron DeFoor works in the areas of health care, hospitality, real estate development and banks. As a founding member of the Alumni Awards Foundation, Byron DeFoor has a strong desire to see Adventist education succeed. He cherished his time at Georgia-Cumberland Academy and wants future generations to be able to have similar positive academy experiences.


Filed under News, Our Progress

One Response to “A Great Pioneer for Adventist Education Passes”

  1. Zoe Vallabha says:

    Thank you for writing & publishing this excellent article.

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