John Q. Hammons, 94, a prominent hotel developer and southwest Missouri philanthropist who rose from a poor Depression-era childhood to build a national real estate empire, died Sunday at a nursing home in Springfield.

Mr. Hammons' first business - a company that sold mortarless 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 Embassy Suites, Marriotts, Radissons and Holiday Inns. Mr. Hammons also developed an expansive real estate portfolio associated with those hotels of golf courses, restaurants, convention centers, a casino, and riverboat gambling. He avoided big-city locations in favor of properties in college towns and state capitals.

"He would say, 'The kids will always go to school, and you can't fire the damn politicians,' " former company executive Scott Tarwater said in 2011.

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."

He regularly appeared on Forbes magazine's list of the wealthiest Americans and estimated his personal wealth several years ago at $1 billion. He took his company public in 1994 before returning it to private ownership a decade later. During his career, according to the company, Mr. Hammons developed 210 hotel properties in 40 states. - AP