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A legacy of giving builds the College of Engineering’s future

With multiple gifts to the Boise State College of Engineering, Catherine and Bob Palmer have carried on the legacy of Catherine’s father, William H. McMurren, by becoming one of the college’s most loyal donors. Their generous support continues to enhance the college’s mission of creating an accessible environment with an unshakeable focus on learning where all are empowered to think critically and solve the world’s complex challenges. Read on to learn more about what motivates the Palmers to invest in the future of Boise State.

Boise State University’s long-standing relationship with Morrison-Knudsen, once among the world’s largest engineering and construction companies headquartered in Boise, is evident all across campus, from the Morrison Center to the Harry Morrison Civil Engineering Building.

For the College of Engineering (COEN), the relationship started at the establishment of the college back in 1997, but the legacy of impact is much deeper today as another Morrison-Knudsen family builds a new relationship in honor of a former chairman who called Boise home.

William H. McMurren, a former engineer and chairman of Morrison-Knudsen, supervised major infrastructure projects in many parts of the world. McMurren’s legacy and impact on the future of engineering and construction management is evident today thanks partly to his daughter, Catherine Palmer.

“I’m grateful that Boise State has offered meaningful ways for my family to honor my father,” Palmer said. “We were always proud of his career, as he moved up through the ranks of an international construction company from office manager to project manager to CEO.”

Palmer continues her father’s legacy through her continued support of COEN student success and faculty innovation. This year, a $2.25 million gift to COEN includes $1.5 million for establishing the college’s first endowed faculty position, the William H. McMurren Endowed Chair of Construction Management.

McMurren’s Journey

McMurren, originally from the Treasure Valley town of Ontario, Oregon, was an Army infantryman in World War II. Like many returning veterans, McMurren utilized the G.I. Bill to attend Texas A&M University where he received a civil engineering degree in 1950.

“He was like many Boise State students– a first-generation college graduate, which for him was only possible due to G.I. Bill scholarships,” Palmer said. “Education has always been a core value of our family.”

McMurren would be recalled to active duty in the Korean War, where he served as an engineering instructor before joining Morrison-Knudsen at the Boise headquarters in 1955.

One of the most urgent and challenging assignments ever handed to the U.S. construction industry was the building of intercontinental ballistic missile bases during America’s space age. At the age of 35 and a veteran of eight years, McMurren’s presence on this and other Morrison-Knudsen-sponsored joint ventures boosted his 30-year career from an office manager to eventual chairman and chief executive officer.

“Like his father and grandfather, heavy construction was my father’s way of life,” Palmer said. “He and I were both raised moving from project to project, often camping in remote areas. Finally settling in Boise was a happy event for our whole family.”

An engineer by training, McMurren utilized his field and office experience to successfully lead construction of several dams and highways in various western states, followed by large missile projects across Missouri and Oklahoma. Under McMurren’s supervision, Morrison-Knudsen built 150 launcher silos, 15 control centers and 12 underground launching sites– all delivered ahead of schedule.

After successfully managing the Missile and Space Division of Morrison-Knudsen for three years, he was named Executive Vice President in 1969,  responsible for all company domestic operations.

McMurren would remain in this elevated role for just three years before the company named him President and Chief Executive Officer in 1972. He later was named Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in 1984. During this time, McMurren enhanced the traditional construction abilities of the company and extended activities to engineering, construction management, mining, real estate, manufacturing and shipbuilding.

On top of his responsibilities with Morrison-Knudsen, he would also serve as director for numerous groups including the Air Force Academy Foundation, Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Albertsons and The Beavers Charitable Trust. In 1983, McMurren received the Beavers’ Golden Beaver Award for Management.

McMurren died in 1985 at the age of 57.

Future Builders Legacy

Shortly after his passing in 1985, friends and family established the William H. McMurren Scholarship for construction management students at Boise State. The scholarship came to the program just five years after the program was established. Over the years the family has continued to add to the scholarship endowment.

“It has been wonderful to see the community thriving over the years,” Palmer said. “My father would have been very pleased to see the growth of Boise State, especially the College of Engineering and the Department of Construction Management, in particular.”

Today, COEN’s Department of Construction Management has seen tremendous growth. Over the last five years, the program has had an enrollment increase of over 60 percent, placing it as the ninth-largest undergraduate program at the university.

Although there are no direct ties to Boise State, Palmer knew her father was aware of the need for high-quality and easily accessible educational opportunities in the Treasure Valley and the beneficial synergies of having an academic center connecting directly to the economic heart of the state.

“With the establishment of new and existing endowments, the tremendous generosity of the Palmers will continue to impact the lives of many of our students, faculty and staff,” College of Engineering Dean JoAnn S. Lighty said. “We are grateful for their generosity and proud of the legacy Mr. McMurren carries on through these gifts.”

Beyond the college’s first endowed faculty position and the scholarship, students see the legacy through the naming of William H. McMurren Hall in the Micron Center for Materials Research in 2018. More recently, thanks to their generosity, the new Construction Management Building’s atrium will be named the William H. McMurren Atrium.

“My father loved his job and he loved the construction industry,” Palmer said. “I know he would be gratified to see Boise State growing and teaching builders of the future.”

-by Jamie Fink