October 1, 2001
Purdue forestry department receives $21 million in timberland
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. A man who never set foot on the Purdue campus has given the university land and timber valued at more than $21.2 million, university officials announced.
"Fred van Eck's generosity will elevate our research program in hardwood tree improvement and make Purdue the place to go for research and education in this important area," said Victor Lechtenberg, dean of Purdue's School of Agriculture.
The announcement was made as part of a yearlong campaign to help Hoosiers "Discover Purdue.
"During all of the last fiscal year, we raised $173.9 million in gifts and pledges, a 53 percent increase over the year before," Purdue President Martin C. Jischke said. "With gifts like this a recognition of Purdue's hardwood tree research this new year is off to a fantastic start."
A New York-based financier, van Eck decided to put the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources and its hardwood tree improvement research in his will shortly before he died March 16, 2000. His gift was prompted by a presentation by the centers director, Charles Michler (pronounced MICK-ler).
Michler, an adjunct associate professor and USDA Forest Service scientist, spoke to the Walnut Council on Aug. 4, 1999, in Lexington, Ky. It was one of several presentations he makes each month on behalf of the center.
Michlers discussion about the centers use of biotechnology for the improvement of American fine hardwoods struck a chord with van Eck.
A longtime member of the Walnut Council, van Eck frequently asked questions of speakers like Michler and kept copious notes about presentations given by researchers and practitioners during council meetings.
"Van Eck was known to ask lots of questions," said Dennis Le Master, head of Purdues Department of Forestry and Natural Resources. "He was not impressed with traditional prescriptions for growing high-quality timber like black walnut. In his mind, hardwood trees were not a profitable investment, although he saw the economic potential for using the modern tools of molecular biology to improve tree quality."
Michler said, "Some thought it somewhat unusual for a man to take such an interest in walnut trees, considering he never actually grew one."
But van Eck knew how to make money grow. He owned 2,039 acres of redwood timberland in California and 7,200 acres of Douglas fir timberland in Oregon, as well as large timber properties in South Carolina and New Zealand.
"Several weeks after my presentation in Lexington, he called me and we had a nice conversation," Michler recalls. "Then Fred said, I would like to support what you are doing. I would like to endow hardwood tree improvement research at the center."
Michler had five subsequent phone conversations with van Eck and arranged to have him visit the Purdue campus in December 1999. Bad weather canceled his flight from Newark, N.J. Then his health worsened, and van Eck never got well enough to visit campus before his death.
The Fred M. van Eck Forest Foundation for Purdue University was established to manage van Ecks California and Oregon timber properties, said Myron Davis, director of development for the School of Agriculture.
"Income from the sale of timber will support hardwood tree improvement research at Purdue," Davis said. "The periodic sale of timber could net the center, in current dollar values, between $300,000 and $500,000 a year initially, and more as the timber grows to maturity. Timber income from the property could be substantially greater, but Mr. van Eck wanted a conservation easement placed on the property to preserve its conservation values and maintain a high quality wildlife habitat."
Any subsequent sale of the land will directly benefit Purdue's hardwood tree improvement research. The remainder of the gift comes from the sale of van Eck properties in South Carolina and New Zealand.
Le Master said using the California and Oregon properties for field studies by Purdue faculty and students is a very real possibility.
"I expect a lot of research will be conducted on the Oregon property because significant problems are evident there, such as Swiss needle cast, which causes Douglas fir needles to yellow and drop, which adversely affects tree growth," Le Master said.
"We now have everything in place to be the worlds leader in hardwood tree improvement research with this gift and our new buildings. Its very exciting to my colleagues and me."
Van Eck also left a portion of his estate to endow a chair in telecommunications technology at his alma mater, Cambridge University.
Van Eck's gift to Purdue's School of Agriculture is second in value to the John S. Wright endowment in 1964. Originally worth $24 million, investments pushed the value of the Wright gift to $66 million by the end of 2000. Both gifts were made to the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources.
Writer: Tom Campbell, (765) 494-8396, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Victor Lechtenberg, (765) 494-8391; email@example.com
Martin C. Jischke (765) 494-9708
Dennis C. Le Master (765) 494-3590; firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles Michler (765) 496-6016; email@example.com
Myron Davis, 494-8672; firstname.lastname@example.org
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A portion of the estate given to Purdue's Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center overlooks the picturesque Yaquina River along Oregon's central coast. The late Fred van Eck donated land and timber to Purdue University valued at more than $21.2 million. (Purdue Agricultural Communications photo.)
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