OKLAHOMA CITY — As a kid, Mart Green made 7 cents for every picture frame he glued together for his father's arts and crafts business. But before he went out and bought baseball cards with his money, the 9-year-old gave 10 percent to charity.
"That was just culture for me," Green said. "It wasn't even something you debated or thought about. It was just natural."
Today, Green is 46 and he is still giving. This time though, it's $70 million of his family's fortune to rescue Oral Roberts University, the evangelical Christian school engulfed in a spending scandal and burdened with tens of millions of dollars in debt.
In return for the donation, Green becomes chairman of the university's new board of trustees, and hopes to restore the public's trust in the 5,700-student institution.
The wealth comes in part from Hobby Lobby, the company Green's father, David, founded in his living room with a $600 loan and built into a $1.8 billion craft supply giant with nearly 400 stores in the U.S. The money also comes from Mardel, the Christian bookstore and office supply chain that Mart Green started when he was 19.
Green announced the donation in November, five days after televangelist Richard Roberts stepped down as president amid accusations he misspent school funds to live in luxury.
Up until then, Green had no connection to the school and hadn't met either Roberts or his father, Oral. Green, an evangelical Christian and member of the Assemblies of God, says he decided to step in for the sake of the alumni, faculty and students.
"When Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart had their situations, a lot of people suffered," Green said, referring to the two TV evangelists caught in sex scandals. "When the Catholic priests had their situation, a lot of people suffered. If ORU goes down it affects all the Christian colleges."
'New dream every Thursday'
One of his first tasks will be finding a new president for the university, which is saddled with about $45 million in debt and more than $60 million in deferred maintenance costs.
Green's involvement sounds like a huge financial gamble — not unlike the time his father decided to close Hobby Lobby stores on Sundays for religious reasons and forgo millions in sales.
"We were always taught that 90 is greater than 100," Green said. "We believe if you give God his 10 percent, that he can do more with the 90 percent than the 100 percent that you keep."
Green is the kid who never finished college — he dropped out of now-defunct Tomlinson College in Cleveland, Tenn., to go into business — but now finds himself the chairman of one. He is a fast talker who friends say still gets butterflies in his stomach when he speaks in public.
He did not set foot in a movie theater until 2001, when he saw Jim Carrey's "The Majestic," about the magic of an old movie theater. He now owns a movie company, which has produced films about missionaries in Ecuador and AIDS in Africa.
"This is a man who has a new dream every Thursday," said Rob Hoskins, president and chief executive of Book of Hope International, a Florida-based organization that distributes Scripture around the world.
Green to live the best life
Forbes magazine lists David Green's net worth at $1.8 billion, making him one of the 400 richest Americans. Because of the gift to Oral Roberts University, the Green family ranked 27th out of 50 on the Chronicle of Philanthropy's list of Americans who gave the most in 2007.
Mart Green parries questions about how many millions of dollars his family has given to charity over the years.
Green's pastor, Rodney Fouts, said that in some cases, the Greens have asked that their names not be attached to gifts. "When you read in the papers about a big gift, you draw assumptions about people," Fouts said. "But he's very down to earth, very humble."
Green lives comfortably but not lavishly in a 4,500-square-foot home in an Oklahoma City suburb with his wife and four children. He has driven three Acuras over the past 18 years and says his greatest extravagance was the Hummer he bought his wife for Christmas four years ago.
He goes on an extended fast each year, the longest lasting for 40 days, and reads from Scripture every morning.
"I feel like some day, when this life is over, it'll be just me and God," he said. "It won't be my mom, it won't be my dad, it won't be the cynics that are out there. It'll just be me accountable for my life, and I want to live a life that I can say I did the best I could."
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