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October 25, 2018

$1M gift establishes first-ever endowed agriculture faculty chair at UMPI

Courtesy / University of Maine at Presque Isle
Courtesy / University of Maine at Presque Isle
During the announcement of the $1 million gift that the University of Maine at Presque Isle has received from Mary Barton Akeley Smith to establish a permanent faculty position in the new Agricultural Science and Agribusiness program, Smith and UMPI President Ray Rice unveiled a commemorative plaque that will be placed in the office of the Dr. Robert Vinton Akeley Chair of Agricultural Science and Agribusiness once the Zillman Family Greenhouse is constructed.

With the stroke of a pen, officials with the University of Maine at Presque Isle received a gift of $1 million from benefactor Mary Barton Akeley Smith to establish the first-ever endowed chair in its history. The permanent faculty position was formally named the Dr. Robert Vinton Akeley Chair of Agricultural Science and Agribusiness during an official announcement and naming ceremony on Oct. 23.

Smith — who lives in California but hails from Presque Isle — presented the gift in honor of her father Robert Akeley and in memory of her husband, Rodney Smith, a pioneer in the semiconductor industry who achieved great success in California's Silicon Valley.

Robert Vinton Akeley, a Presque Isle native, was an internationally known potato breeder and leader of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Potato Breeding Program. He was directly or indirectly responsible for the release of 40 new potato varieties, including the Kennebec, according to UMPI's news release about the $1 million gift in his honor.

His work in potato breeding received international recognition, and he authored more than 100 publications. He worked collaboratively with farmers, growers, processors, and fellow researchers in more than 30 states and 9 countries, all with a focus on potato culture varietal excellence.

Gift to support endowed faculty position

Smith's gift to UMPI's Foundation endows a permanent faculty position within UMPI's agricultural science and agribusiness program. Funds will support the initial salary and benefits for the position as well as startup costs of the program during the first four years — including equipment for the program and greenhouse, and summer research fellowships — with the balance held in an endowment.

The endowed resources guarantee a strong future for the program, UMPI stated, providing the chair with additional resources for research, including financial support for student research, industry partnership, and program development and delivery.

"This is an incredible milestone for UMPI, not only because this is the largest one-time gift we've ever received, but also because it's the first gift of this magnitude ever explicitly designated to the development of an academic program — our new Agricultural Science and Agribusiness program — that will directly impact the economy and well-being of the County for generations to come," UMPI President Ray Rice said. "We give our most sincere and profound thanks to Mrs. Mary Barton Akeley Smith for this gift. Her exceptional interest in the economic development of the County, her vision and generosity, and her engagement with higher education, is truly remarkable."

Smith said she was "so proud" of her father when UMaine at Orono conferred an honorary doctorate on her father in recognition of his many years of potato research.

"It is now so fitting that the University of Maine at Presque Isle is naming the chair of its new Agricultural Science and Agribusiness program after him," she said. "What a wonderful final chapter."

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