At the recent 117th celebration of Founders’ Day at the University of Montevallo, UM welcomed one of its most notable and generous alumni to speak to those attending the convocation.
Michael E. Stephens is a successful entrepreneur, a leader in the field of health care and physical rehabilitation, and a philanthropist. His generosity and service to the University of Montevallo has resulted in the growth of the College of Business that bears his name.
Stephens graduated from UM in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in business and received a master’s degree in 1975 from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His college career had been interrupted by work and by a diving accident that had threatened to leave him unable to walk. After a year of rehabilitation, he recovered and returned to college, devoting his future to rehabilitative services. Committed to providing comprehensive services and quality care to persons with physical disabilities, he led Lakeshore Hospital in providing those services.
He founded the Lakeshore Foundation in the mid-1980s, focusing on athletic programs. Lakeshore’s athletes were highly successful in the Paralympics and other competitions. This approach led to Stephens founding ReLife, a publicly traded national health services corporation, in 1986. ReLife merged with HealthSouth in 1994, and Stephens focused his talents on service to his community.
His service has included membership on the University of Montevallo’s board of trustees, the President’s Committee on Hiring the Handicapped and the National Association of Rehabilitation Facilities. Stephens was awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters by UM in 1995, and in recognition of his service, philanthropy and support of higher education, on Founders’ Day in 1997, the University of Montevallo renamed its business school the Michael E. Stephens College of Business.
Stephens spoke to the theme of Founders’ Day, “Dedication to Our Past, Commitment to Our Future,” recalling how the University of Montevallo transformed him and the course of his life. He encouraged the Montevallo family to commit to support the school as the early residents of the town did when the Alabama Girls’ Industrial School was founded. Calling UM “an institution of substance,” he called on alumni, faculty, staff and students to contribute not only funding, but also ideas, time and service.