SPRINGFIELD, Missouri - John Q. Hammons, a prominent hotel developer and southwest Missouri philanthropist who rose from a poor Depression-era childhood to build a national real estate empire, has died. He was 94.

Hammons, who actively led his company well into his 80s, died Sunday at a nursing home in Springfield, said Sheri Davidson Smith, a spokeswoman for John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts.

Hammons' first business - a company that sold mortar-less bricks - went bust in the late 1940s, saddling him with debt. He paid off that debt after two years and recovered to build housing subdivisions in southwest Missouri over the next decade before purchasing 10 Holiday Inn franchises with a partner in 1958 from the company's founder.

He went on to build 200 hotels nationwide, including the Renaissance Hotel in Tulsa at 71st and Highway 169.

Along the way he donated millions of dollars to local hospitals, colleges and public television. His name graces so many buildings and streets in Springfield- from the basketball arena at Missouri State University to the city's tallest building - that comedian Bob Hope once joked that the city should change its name to "Hammonsville."

In 2003, Hammons donated $750,000 to Tulsa Union Public Schools' foundation, who in turn named its multi-purpose activity center on South Mingo in his honor.

In a 2003 interview with News On 6, Hammons says the donation was his way of giving back to the community and investing in the future of youth. [SEE VIDEO ABOVE]

In the news release issued Sunday, Hammons Hotel CEO Jackie Dowdy said; "Hammons was a giant in the hospitality industry and was unwavering in his commitment to exceptional quality and service and to giving back to the community," said Jacqueline Dowdy, CEO of John Q Hammons Hotels & Resorts. "He was a great mentor and friend and will be missed by all who came to know him, but his legacy will live on forever."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.