Michigan State receives $1.5 million donation from Harpell family for Munn Ice Arena expansion

Munn Ice Arena has been home to the Michigan State hockey team since 1974 (photo: Michigan State Athletics).

Building on the rich tradition of Michigan State ice hockey and expanding on its future, the school announced a $1.5 million gift to the Munn Ice Arena expansion project from former Spartans hockey player Gary Harpell and his wife Joanne Harpell.

“This generous gift from the Harpells gives a vital assist to Spartan Hockey for the ongoing and long-awaited renovation of one of MSU’s most storied sports facilities,” said MSU president Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., in a statement “Gary’s experience is a great example of the important influence being a student-athlete has had on many Spartans’ lives.”

Gary, a 1982 grad, played on the Spartans hockey team from 1978 to 1982 for legendary coaches Amo Bessone and Ron Mason.

“Walking on and making the team in 1978 was the fulfilment of many, many years of dreaming, and a goal of mine to play D-I college hockey,” he said. “I proved to myself that if I set my mind to something, I could really achieve it. I want that for everybody that comes through Michigan State.

“Making that team in 1978 was the springboard for me to be able to take risks. It gave me the confidence that I could go on and do pretty much whatever I wanted to do. I used it in my professional life, in my personal life, it had a profound effect on me.”

In addition to his own contributions to the facility, Gary has volunteered his time as part of a committee of fellow Spartan hockey alumni who are helping drum up support to increase fundraising efforts for addition.

The renovation started in 2019, was paused in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and is resuming this summer.

The $26.2 million, 35,000-square-foot facility will dramatically improve the Big Ten’s second-oldest ice arena (built in 1974) by elevating many areas from ice level to above ground, including a weight room, training room, film room, offices, conference rooms and administrative spaces. Fans will be welcomed through a new “front door” entrance on the south end, complete with an MSU hockey hall of history.

“For me, investing in the Munn renovation project has been a little bit like taking a slap shot off the ankle to save the game,” Gary said. “It hurt a bit when I first blocked the shot — when I first made the commitment. But as time goes on, the pain subsides, and what you’re left with is this incredible feeling. It’s indescribable, the amount of pride that I have in what’s happening at Michigan State and in the hockey program.”

To date, nearly $17 million has been raised for the expansion project. The Harpells, along with five other donors, including Tom and Lupe Izzo and the Forest Akers Trust, have committed over $1 million each to the facility. In all, 89 donors have stepped up with gifts of $10,000 or more.

“MSU athletics thanks Gary and Joanne for their commitment to excellence and generous philanthropy,” said Bill Beekman, vice president and director of athletics. “Michigan State hockey holds a very special place in the hearts of many Spartans who will recall the days in which MSU hockey was the hardest ticket to get on a Friday and Saturday evening. With this addition, we aim to provide our hockey program what it needs to recruit elite-level student-athletes on and off the ice, while consistently competing for Big Ten championships in front of full capacity crowds at Munn.”

Danton Cole, head coach of MSU Hockey, added, “Gary made a great impact on Michigan State as a student-athlete. He played for both Coach Bessone and Coach Mason and was a large part of that successful transition between two legendary coaches. Gary and his wife, Joanne, have now left a lasting impression on another major transition for Spartan Hockey with a tremendous donation to the Munn Renovation Fund. This is the most significant construction project for our program since the opening of Munn Ice Arena and with the leadership and benevolence of Gary and Joanne, we are excited to see it become a reality and provide an even better place for our Spartans to grow.”

Naming opportunities for donors and fans remain available. For more information, visit spartanfund.net or call 517-432-4610.


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