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Longtime NMSU supporters recognized with state philanthropy awards

Two longtime supporters of New Mexico State University who have significantly contributed to the future of the NMSU and Las Cruces communities have received 2017 National Philanthropy Day awards from the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ New Mexico chapter.


A man and a woman
John and Laura Conniff attend the National Philanthropy Luncheon Nov. 2 in Albuquerque. Laura Conniff, an NMSU alumna, received the Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser Award recognizing the impact she has made on breast cancer awareness and research. The award is one of the 2017 National Philanthropy Day awards from the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ New Mexico chapter.
Two men and two women
Members of the Allen family attend the National Philanthropy Luncheon Nov. 2 in Albuquerque. Allen Theatres is the recipient of the Outstanding Business/Corporation in Philanthropy Award. The award is one of the 2017 National Philanthropy Day awards from the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ New Mexico chapter.

Laura Conniff, an NMSU alumna, received the Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser Award recognizing the impact she has made on breast cancer awareness and research, and Allen Theatres is the recipient of the Outstanding Business/Corporation in Philanthropy Award. The awardees were recognized Nov. 2 at the National Philanthropy Luncheon in Albuquerque.

“Both Laura Conniff and the Allen family are legendary for giving back to the community and for their support of the university,” NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers said. “The Allens have invested in numerous university projects and they continuously promote NMSU in their theaters. Laura Conniff served NMSU as a regent and helped lead the NMSU Aggies are Tough Enough to Wear Pink efforts, raising money to help fund important research. They are each wonderful and long-time NMSU Aggies.”

Conniff was a founding member and co-chair of the NMSU Aggies are Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign. The campaign, which kicked off in 2007, brought in $225,000 in cash and in-kind contributions during its first year. Funds raised were given to Cowboys for Cancer Research, a nonprofit organization that donates money directly to cancer research, and the collaborative work of Jeffrey B. Arterburn of NMSU and Eric R. Prossnitz of the University of New Mexico. Breakthrough discoveries in their work have been internationally recognized in the fight against human cancers and other diseases. Under her leadership, the NMSU Aggies are Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign raised close to $5 million in its 10-year span.

“Laura is one of the most recognizable volunteers in our community because she’s out there planning, promoting, encouraging and leading by example,” said Andrea Tawney, NMSU Foundation President. “She inspires our team and I know she has inspired our faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends to get involved and make an impact.”

Conniff said her devotion to giving back to her community stems from some advice her father gave her years ago, telling her, “If you want a good town, you need to give back to it and make it better.”

“It’s hard to imagine Las Cruces without NMSU,” Conniff said. “I’m a huge believer in education, so giving back is easier when it’s something that is close to your heart.”

Conniff is a member of the Business Advisory Council in the NMSU College of Business, Aggie Athletic Club and the 1888 Society. NMSU has honored her service with induction in the College of Business Hall of Fame in 2004; recognition as the College of Business Outstanding Centennial Alumna in 1988 and Distinguished Alumna in 1999; and the NMSU Foundation’s Branding Iron Award in 1997. She supports student scholarships as a sponsor of a named endowed scholarship fund, and previously served as the first female chair of the NMSU Foundation Board.

The Allen family has also fostered a culture of giving back to their community. The family owns Allen Theatres, which grew out of a nickelodeon and opera house established by Frank Allen in Farmington, New Mexico, in 1912 and now includes 115 screens in 11 communities. While the family-owned company has entertained generations of New Mexico families, and they have also found many ways to improve our lives with their support of the arts, athletics and educational facilities across the state.

Allen Theatres has generously supported the NMSU system for the past 32 years. Their financial gifts to the university have made a transformative impact on scholarships and programs that benefit NMSU students and help them achieve their educational goals. The family’s generosity has also made its mark on the ASNMSU Center for the Arts, where the box office is named for Helen Foutz Allen, who oversaw the family business for several years after her husband passed away. The state-of-the-art marquee also bears the Allen Theatres name to honor the impact of their support, which helped make the Center for the Arts facility a jewel that connects the campus to the Las Cruces community.

Allen Theatres also has a long history of support for various athletic programs at NMSU. Allen Theatres recently funded a major renovation of the locker rooms for the football team – an important recruiting tool for coaches seeking to build the program.

Their giving began when the company’s past-president and CEO, Larry Allen, created a scholarship endowment to benefit students who work at the area theaters. Many scholarship recipients over the years have been first-generation college students. By continually adding to their endowment, the family has ensured that the earnings now benefit as many as four students each year.

While Carruthers and Tawney nominated the Allen family for the philanthropy award as a public thank you for their generosity, Allen Theatres president Russell Allen said the family likes to stay away from the spotlight.

“We do this because we can, not for the recognition,” Russell Allen said. “We support the university and athletic program because it helps the community as a whole. We want to support the community and get more students and people to this wonderful community. My father raised me to think, ‘If you can, you should.’”