Ex-Razorback baseball coach Norm DeBriyn leading capital campaign for Fayetteville church expansion

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 3,495 views 

Norm DeBriyn

Norm DeBriyn had a great run in Fayetteville as the baseball coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks. And even after 20 years since his retirement, his name still resonates in Northwest Arkansas.

In 33 seasons (1970-2002), DeBriyn compiled a 1,161-650-6 record with four appearances in the College World Series.

He was also the visionary behind the development of Baum-Walker Stadium, which opened on South Razorback Road in 1996.

DeBriyn’s coaching accomplishments led to an induction into multiple halls of fame, including the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and the Southwest Conference Hall of Fame.

Upon his retirement from coaching, DeBriyn went to work for the nonprofit Razorback Foundation Inc., the private fundraising arm that raises millions of dollars in support of the UA athletics department. He’s been instrumental in raising money for multiple Baum-Walker expansions, and the facility is considered among the finest college baseball stadiums in the country.

DeBriyn, 79, is now hoping for similar fundraising success for something he’s just as passionate about — St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish, a nonprofit organization at the University of Arkansas.

DeBriyn has been a full-time Catholic deacon at St. Thomas for the past decade. He is also the chairman of the church’s capital campaign committee working to raise $12.5 million to pay for improvements to the church at 603 N. Leverett Ave. The upgrades include demolishing the student center and building a new facility.

Two years ago, the Diocese of Little Rock, which serves the entire state, approved the church’s plans to explore a building project and capital campaign with a feasibility study. St. Thomas hired Fayetteville native Sarah Brady Du Preez as director of stewardship and development that same year.

DeBriyn explained that the parish was built in 1959 and has not seen any renovation or restoration since then. With the UA’s population growth, space is limited. In addition to the cramped quarters, St. Thomas has many of the same features and infrastructure since its original construction and much of the building is antiquated. DeBriyn said water leaks, electrical issues, air and heating equipment malfunctions and other infrastructural challenges are common.

The capital campaign has garnered early support, with more than $7 million raised or pledged. DeBriyn said St. Thomas has also received a $1.5 million challenge grant from the Mabee Foundation in Tulsa. The grant is contingent on the church raising an additional $3.3 million by April 2023.

“It’s been attempted three different times [in the past] to raise money for renovations,” DeBriyn said. “Now it’s gotten to the point that it’s got to be demolished. Hopefully, we can pull this off. We’ve got some big asks out there. It’s really a need.”

DeBriyn said the church is working with Fayetteville firm WER Architects/Planners on the building design.