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Well, thanks very much, Jack, and thanks to you and the trustees of the Danforth Foundation for this wonderful decision and wonderful gift. And it’s really a time for gratitude and there’re plenty of thanks to go around.
I want to sort of go at it historically too but thanks to Will and Ada Danforth and their children, Dorothy and Donald, who were the original, legal founders of the Danforth Foundation. And it was founded to promote the wellbeing of mankind; today we would say “humankind”. And their example has recently been discovered by some of the wealthy people of our country. So I would like to give thanks too for the good work of the Danforth Foundation in the past. We’ve always been trying to figure out what was really important to do and to do it. It’s never been just a foundation to give to whatever comes through the door. First, it was education of faculty for colleges and universities when that was not being well done. And when the government and other agencies moved into that area, we took on K-12 education which at the time was very much neglected. That’s not so much anymore. We took on early programs to help bring minorities and women into the mainstream when our nation wasn’t paying much attention to that. And then to helping to build Saint Louis. And one thing I’m happy about is that when the Danforth Foundation closes its doors that much of the capital will continue to serve in endowments in Saint Louis operating institutions rather than the Foundation.
And special gratitude, of course, for this large gift. We in this Center are grateful and I’m sure everyone wants to express that because we’re about important work; we believe in our work; and this will help to carry it forward. It’s in keeping with the original goal to benefit humankind but the means are very modern and were unavailable to people until quite recently and that’s to use the power of modern science to do something wonderful for the people of the world. We expect that from our science and that of our partner institutions, which are important to us, will come new discoveries that will benefit humankind especially in two important ways as you’ve heard: improve human nutrition--not only to end malnutrition which on the average of every six seconds causes the death of a child--but also to provide enough food so that children will not grow up stunted in mind and body as many in our world still do because they’ve had too little to eat; and secondly, to preserve and enhance the environment so that our great-grandchildren will have as nurturing a world as our ancestors left us. Such boons will be a gift from Saint Louis and from our region to the rest of the world.
But this Center I think is also a gift to Saint Louis. Our efforts will attract talented people to our community and also attract jobs and commercial development. In fact, they’re already coming.
So with this new largesse, what’s next for the Center? You’re going to hear about the future from our incoming president, Jim Carrington, and I think there are plenty of data on him around that people can see. But before introducing him, I’m just going to say a few words about things that will remain the same.
First, our mission to do plant science that will benefit humankind both around the world and Saint Louis will remain our key mission.
Second, we’ll still be in Saint Louis, the ideal spot to do plant science because of our partner universities that do such wonderful science, two of whom have agricultural colleges, but all have outstanding biomedical and biologic science. Thus we can reinforce each other and the whole of our region will be greater than the sum of the parts. Our neighbor, Monsanto, is a great plus, the nation’s leading plant science company and it’s successful because of the quality of its scientists and its scientific research. The Missouri Botanical Garden, a world leading research institution. And our location in the nation’s green belt. Most corn and soybeans grow close by. And we’re also close to Bunge-North America, ADM, Novus International, Sigma-Aldrich.
And the third thing that won’t change is we won’t give up the accomplishments in the last 12 years. We can build on them. And I just wanted to run through some of the accomplishments because I think it gives one confidence that we in the future can continue on this sort of course. Twelve years ago, we had no staff, no building, no endowment, no volunteers, no annual support. Today we are recognized as the leading independent plant science center in the nation with 15 principal investigators, principal scientists, 140 total scientists, housed in this modern, well-equipped building. Then, we had no scientists. Today, the quality of the research is high. Our principal investigators are in competitive research grants over twice as much as the average principal investigator in other institutions. Today, scientists from 24 nations are working here. And scientists and national leaders from the U.S. and elsewhere visit us frequently. Our endowment has grown from zero to, now with this grant, over $200 million. And it’s appropriate today that we are also opening our new “honor gallery” of endowment donors: those who rose to an earlier challenge from the Danforth Foundation to build an endowment to sustain us in perpetuity. And those on whom we hope to count on to continue to move our mission forward.
And that’s not all. The annual support has grown from zero to over $1.5 million in each of the last two years and thanks to our volunteers for that.
We have field tests of bio-fortified and virus resistant cassava underway in Africa.
The Gates Foundation has made us the “go to” place to help other institutions as well as our own test their promising crops in under-developed countries.
The Department of Energy has made us a leader in working toward competitively priced biofuels from algae.
We rented the north eight acres to a land developer to encourage commercial development and Building One that you can see here is now 70% full.
And most important, of course, are the people. And we’ve been able to attract exceptional leadership starting with Ernie Jaworski who got it started; Roger Beachy, our founding president; Phil Needleman, our interim president; and now Jim Carrington, our next president. And I can’t imagine a better group.
And finally we have recruited, retained, and attracted visionary, talented, energetic, and generous people who do the real work. And I just wondered if you would stand -- or if you’re standing, identify yourselves and hold up your hand -- of all those scientists, staff, postdocs, technical people, volunteers, and donors. These are the people that really make this place work.
So in summary we have I think an impressive if even a very short history.
One preliminary word about the future. The request for this grant was approved by the trustees of the plant science center, signifying the conviction that with Jim Carrington as our new leader and $70 million, we could achieve the ambitious goals set out in our proposal. We knew that this wonderful gift will mean more, not less work, for the trustees and our supporters. Reaching the top of the hill makes one look up and ask … I’d say to use the “hill” model, not “What next?” but “Where next?” And we’ve not waited to reach the top of the hill. The opportunities are too exciting. The plans on how to use this $70 million are Phase One of longer-range plans. But while they will not be realized in a year or five years they will certainly be realized. For we now have an obligation to work toward matching this gift and being worthy of it. I know I will give my best and I’m sure that the friends and colleagues here will do the same.
Now I will introduce Jim Carrington. You have information or have seen information about him. Let me say that in finding Jim we consulted the nation’s leading plant scientists asking each for his or her opinion of the most important challenges for plant science and the best person to lead us. We also interviewed and did extensive homework. Jim turned out to be everything we had hoped for and fortunately for us he said “yes.” Our new president, Jim Carrington.