Historic donation will expand, enhance opportunities for students, faculty
CARBONDALE, Ill. – A $10 million gift from John and Jayne Simmons will impact generations of Southern Illinois University Carbondale law students and strengthen the law school’s ability to serve its students and the region. In honor of their generosity, the law school will be named Simmons Law School, pending approval from the SIU Board of Trustees in April.
The transformational donation comes as the law school is celebrating its 50th anniversary. It will enhance and expand the educational offerings to students and opportunities for faculty.
“Fifty years ago, we were founded in the public interest to serve the public good,” said Camille Davidson, dean of the SIU School of Law. “This generous gift empowers us to advance our mission on a larger scale and with an even greater impact.”
This historic gift – the largest SIU Carbondale has ever received – was announced Monday, Feb. 5, further cementing John and Jayne Simmons’ legacy at SIU, which includes a $10.2 million commitment to the Simmons Cancer Institute at the SIU School of Medicine in Springfield. Their most recent contribution comes as a major step in the ongoing $500 million Imagine SIU 2030 fundraising campaign.
“We are so incredibly excited and inspired by this act of generosity,” Chancellor Austin Lane said. “John and Jayne Simmons are shining examples of the impact individuals can have on our institution and the entire region. Their unwavering support and diligent service speak volumes.”
John Simmons, a native and resident of Alton, is an SIU Edwardsville graduate, member of the SIU Board of Trustees, and chairperson and founder of Simmons Hanly Conroy law firm. His and Jayne’s support will help provide more access, services and opportunities to students seeking educational opportunities.
The law school is the alma mater of more than 180 local, state and federal judges. It has alumni practicing law in 48 states and more than 10 countries. It also features legal clinics that serve members of underrepresented communities and offer students real-world experience.
“The SIU university system has provided me with many opportunities to better my life,” John Simmons said. “A thriving law school will help support others in southern Illinois who are working hard day-to-day to improve their own lives. SIU holds a special place for me. We would really like people to look at Simmons Law School as an attainable place where they are welcome, they belong and they can thrive.”
A legacy of service, philanthropy
John Simmons has served two stints on the SIU Board of Trustees, the first from 2004 to 2015, and he was appointed again in 2019 by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. He has previously functioned as the board’s secretary and chairman. He earned his law degree from Southern Methodist University and previously served in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer.
In 1999, John founded Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s largest plaintiff’s law firms. The firm has dedicated the past 25 years to representing workers and families impacted by mesothelioma, a fatal and preventable asbestos-related cancer. Under his leadership, the firm expanded to new practice areas and now employs more than 250 people, including more than 80 attorneys, in offices across the country. Most recently, the firm successfully helped lead the national effort to hold manufacturers and distributors of prescription opiates accountable for the opioid epidemic. Firm employees have donated more than $1 million to local charities through the Simmons Employee Foundation and more than $20 million to cancer research nationwide.
Simmons Hanly Conroy has long been involved with SIU’s law school, providing internships and employing its graduates.
“We have been working collaboratively with Simmons Hanly Conroy for years,” Davidson said. “Its broad reach as a national law firm will help to elevate the law school’s recognition and reputation.”
The Simmons Cancer Institute at the SIU School of Medicine is a community-based patient care, research, education and outreach program created to improve cancer care for the citizens of central and southern Illinois. John Simmons also started an initiative to provide free dental care for veterans at the SIUE Dental School in Alton.
John and Jayne are civic leaders, community advocates, real estate developers and act as a catalyst for transformational change in southern Illinois. Beyond Simmons Hanly Conroy, John and Jayne founded AltonWorks, a social impact redevelopment company focused on the revitalization of historic downtown Alton as a healthy, thriving, walkable city. Community contributions are an important part of their story. They have invested significant resources, including time, money and advocacy to people, programs, issues, initiatives and causes designed to create opportunities to help people better their lives.
AltonWorks was founded on the principles of livability, environmental stewardship, social justice and inclusivity and believes in rebuilding communities for optimum social impact. AltonWorks offers thought leadership, planning, convening and connecting, adding capacity to the region’s ability to attract funding, expand social impact, catalyze economic growth and anchor downstate recovery.