Glazers: A driving force behind the Green Wave sports

Jill Henkin Glazer and Avram
Jill Henkin Glazer and Avram "Avie" Glazer

It’s impossible to walk the grounds of Tulane University and avoid the impact of Jill and Avie Glazer.

Their contribution is as diverse as it is impactful, stretching between endowed scholarships, lucrative fundraisers, beautified landscaping and even a new football stadium. Those projects were birthed by more than just an oversized check from the family who owns the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and English Premier League’s Manchester United; they’re the result of vision and determination.

In the various corners of the university, it’s clear the Glazers’ role inside the school is invaluable. Tulane’s stakeholders, from the uppermost reaches of the administration down to the current student body, expressed words of gratitude and awe when prompted with the Glazer name.

It all starts with the passion of Jill Heinken Glazer, a Tulane alumna and board member, and is quietly supported by Avie Glazer, who stands beside her vigor for the university.

“The great thing about what Jill does is that she owns the work,” said Jay Lapeyre, who served as chairman of the Tulane Board of Trustees from 2009-2012. “She takes the lead on a project and then owns responsibility for making sure it happens the right way. She sets a great example with not only the support and contribution, but she makes sure she pushes the right way to ensure its success while creating proper visibility for the projects and not her.”

So when Tulane was in need of a beautification boost following Katrina, there was Jill Glazer, walking the path with executive VP for university relations Yvette Jones, giving direct guidance and input. When Tulane wanted to boost the profile for its homecoming auction, there was Glazer, hitting the phones and running down sponsorships to increase the event’s revenue more than 20 times over.

And when Tulane wanted to cement its football program by building a new on-campus stadium, there were the Glazers, coming up with a $5 million matched donation to get the project off the ground and allow the announcement to be made.

“Jill gives 110 percent of her herself to Tulane,” husband Avie Glazer said. “She is always willing to go out of her way to help Tulane and is constantly working to reconnect friends and alumni. She doesn’t expect anything in return. She does it out of love for her alma mater.”

It’s the kind of passion and ability to connect with people Jill Glazer’s former classmate at Tulane, Cathy Glick, recalls when she moved in across the hall from her as a freshman in 1981. Within a few months, Glick said her newfound friend was already a welcome face at iconic New Orleans spots like Hansen’s Sno-Bliz (where her picture still adorns the wall) and Camellia Grill, where she became a favorite of the waiters.

Yet Glazer admits she didn’t anticipate having this kind of intimate involvement with the school after earning her Tulane degree in 1985. Instead, her journey into becoming one of the university’s most important figures was built partly on a renewed zeal to help post-Katrina New Orleans and largely on a desire to improve college life for daughters Kendall (class of 2013) and Libby (class of 2016).

For that, Tulane can thank an unlikely ally: Facebook. Despite previously visiting her mother’s alma mater, Kendall Glazer was on track to attend a larger state school — until she saw pictures of Tulane students’ Mardi Gras revelry on the social networking site as a high school senior.

“All of a sudden, she wanted to go to Tulane,” Jill Glazer said. “And around that time, my mother had passed away, and I realized you never know what tomorrow is going to bring. So I wanted to be around my kids and do everything I can for them, even though they were leaving home.”

By then, Tulane president Scott Cowen had already pulled Glazer into the fold, hosting fundraising events at her and Avie’s homes in Palm Beach and Tampa, Florida, as the school worked to rebuild in the wake of Katrina. Cowen’s story of re-opening buildings and fighting to keep the school afloat resonated with Glazer, who understood the type of financial hole the disaster tore through the university.

“Tulane was just coming out of Katrina, and I think every dollar they raised was more needed and appreciated,” Jill Glazer said. “It means something when you know you can make a difference. We just love New Orleans and love the energy and people. Then, the next thing I know, my husband is saying we should buy a house.”

Their home, which borders the Uptown campus, cemented the family into the Tulane culture. But her true value to the school crystallized when she accepted the role of chairing the annual “Helluva Hullabaloo” homecoming auction to benefit the athletic department.

Her involvement turned a $30,000 event in the previous year to a $250,000 surplus for the Tulane Athletics Fund. Over the next five years, Glazer maintained her position with the event and the donations grew with her, peaking with this year’s $700,000 haul.

Beyond the dollars it raised, Glazer’s personality brought people who lost touch with the school back into the fold, growing the pool for Tulane’s future endeavors.

“I absolutely wouldn’t be involved with Tulane if it wasn’t for her,” said Scott Berg, a Baton Rouge businessman who graduated in 1998 and became one of the four biggest contributors to the auction. “I don’t know if I had been back on campus until I met Jill and I lived an hour away. Now I have been there more than at LSU in the last few years, and that all stems from the passion she had that transferred to me.”

As critical as fundraising may be, Glazer’s legacy to many members of the Tulane community will live in the construction of Yulman Stadium, which includes a club section carrying the family name. Not only did their anonymous gift prompt the announcement — transforming the project from rumor to reality — but her voice in the design and building process has served as a standard-bearer.

“Quite honestly, there are very few people who have her level of expertise,” Cowen said. “I think the finished product of Yulman Stadium will reflect a lot of that input that the Glazers garnered over decades in the sports industry.”

Thanks to experience in what she called “the family business” — namely, the Buccaneers — Glazer provided a necessary assist with sales, customer service, finishes, atmosphere, amenities and sponsorships in the stadium process. By the time Tulane came to the families of Richard Yulman and Tom Benson, who stepped in with donations for naming rights on the field and stadium, the vision had already developed.

“Jill is not just going to write you a check,” Jones said. “She has very clear thoughts on how things should be done and insists things be done at a very high quality level. She holds everybody accountable and wants to make sure that if she’s investing, it’s absolutely the best it can be.”

Yet despite her persistence and passion, Glazer’s friends and family insists she dodges publicity and recognition at every turn. Described by Glick as a “quiet chief,” Glazer has largely kept herself out of the public eye, often avoiding the microphone at major announcements.

Berg said she’s more likely to be seen walking the campus, chatting up students or groups of potential parents than in front of media.

“It’s easy to join her because you know she’s not doing this for attention or for personal recognition but because it’s a cause she truly believes in,” Berg said. “I just want to be involved in whatever she wants to be involved in. There’s no greater compliment I can give.”