The close friendship and legacies of two UC Davis giants — Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder and the late entrepreneur Charlie Soderquist — will be memorialized in one of six new endowed faculty positions to be celebrated at a dinner tonight.
The Gary Snyder Endowed Chair in Science and Humanities, pending expected university approvals, will be supported by a $1 million endowment from the estate of Soderquist, a UC Davis-educated philanthropist, conservationist and entrepreneur who died in 2004.
Soderquist’s estate also provided $1 million to endow a second chair named for one of his UC Davis mentors, Donald G. Crosby, a professor emeritus in environmental toxicology, the field in which Soderquist earned a doctorate and later launched his successful business career.
Those two new chairs along with the Russell L. Rustici Endowed Chair in Rangeland Watershed Science, the Russell L. Rustici Endowed Specialist in Cooperative Extension in Rangeland Watershed Science, the Jan and Beta Popper Endowed Professorship in Opera and the previously announced Charles J. Soderquist Chair in Entrepreneurship will be recognized at the Endowed Chairs and Professorships dinner.
“Endowed chairs and professorships strengthen a university’s most important resource: its excellent faculty,” Chancellor Linda Katehi said in remarks prepared for the evening, a dinner to honor all UC Davis endowed chairs and professorships, which now number 120. “They help the faculty excel in learning, discovery and engagement with the broader community for generations to come. We are grateful to the donors who have given so generously to establish these new endowed positions.”
Jessie Ann Owens, dean of the Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, lauded Soderquist for having set an example of “involved scholarship” that created a “real connection with the people of Northern California.
“It is especially fitting that the new Gary Snyder Endowed Chair in Science and Humanities, which represents the distinctive brand of humanities at UC Davis, bears the name of one of our most distinguished faculty,” Owens said. “It celebrates our university-wide focus on collaboration, and our commitment to a kind of humanities that engages with the pressing issues of our time.”
The latest Soderquist gifts bring to $5.7 million the total amount that his estate has given to UC Davis. That includes $1.2 million for the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, $1 million for the Charles J. Soderquist Chair in Entrepreneurship at the Graduate School of Management and $1 million to support the business school’s Center for Entrepreneurship.
Former Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef designated $1 million each for the Snyder chair in the College of Letters and Science and the Crosby chair in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
“The common denominator for Crosby and Snyder was simple enough — Charlie loved the exceptional intellect,” Vanderhoef said.
Snyder, a professor emeritus in the Department of English, met Soderquist in the mid 1990s at an end-of-the-year gathering on campus. Soderquist was a UC regent at the time.
They became friends over the next decade, with shared interests in conservation and Tibetan Buddhism, among other subjects. Soderquist also was an author, having published “Sturgeon Tales: Stories of the Delta.” The book’s listing on Amazon.com still carries a review from Snyder.
“These stories from the Sacramento River Delta are the kind of creative and scientific myth-making that gives a whole place life,” Snyder wrote. “A set of river-system fish-as-people tales for grown-ups, it’s a rich mix. Geologic and oceanic lore becomes sturgeon oral histories; Sacramento Valley history blends with catalogs of river-rat bars and sexy fish-spawning scenes.”
The two enjoyed many wide-ranging conversations in which Soderquist displayed an interest and curiosity “in some of the less-ordinary lines of thought that I had been pursuing over the years,” Snyder recalled in an interview.
“He was a very far-thinking and astute guy,” Snyder said. “He understood and appreciated what humanism was all about, what a humanistic education was good for.”
With the other chairs in environmental toxicology and the Graduate School of Management, Snyder said the chair in science and humanities completes a portrait of a complex man.
“In a way, it really reflects who Charlie was,” he said. “The businessman, the scientist and, by putting me in the mix, his broad curiosity, his awareness of history, literature and philosophy is also acknowledged. I think it’s very appropriate.”
Dean Owens said the Snyder chair will be awarded to a scholar whose work is at the intersection of humanities and science. The first recipient will be selected from current faculty in the Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies.
At the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the Donald G. Crosby Endowed Chair in Environmental Chemistry will support research, teaching and outreach related to the source, environmental fate or consequence of chemicals that affect living organisms. It is also pending expected university approvals and a recipient has not yet been selected.
Crosby, who recalled urging a young Soderquist to pursue his post-graduate degrees, said he was “extremely honored and quite surprised” to have the chair endowed in his name.
“I would hope that Charlie would become sort of a legend among our graduate students, as someone who started off with very modest means and just through hard work — he was a tremendously hard worker — and smarts managed to become successful not only in science but in business,” Crosby said.
The two Rustici endowments were created with a $1.2 million gift from Russell L. Rustici, a Lake County cattle rancher who died in October 2008. Rustici had worked with several University of California professors, Cooperative Extension farm advisors and specialists who studied issues he cared about — cattle and preservation of the rangeland ecosystem.
Selections for both of the Rustici endowed positions already have been made.
Randy Dahlgren — professor of soil science and biogeochemistry, chair of the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources at UC Davis and director of the UC Davis-based Kearney Foundation of Soil Science — has been named the Rustici Endowed Chair in Rangeland Watershed Science.
The chair supports research and outreach programs related to the California rangelands that Rustici appreciated and worked to preserve. In the near term, the endowment will provide funding for collaborative work with colleagues to prepare a new book, "Biogeochemistry of Mediterranean Watersheds," which will be dedicated to Rustici.
Ken Tate, a rangeland watershed specialist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences and the department’s vice chair for outreach and extension, has been named the Rustici endowed specialist. His research and outreach program focuses on the diverse managed ecosystems that make up California’s rangelands.
The Rustici endowed specialist also will support research and outreach programs related to the California rangelands, including collaborative work with science colleagues to prepare the book to be dedicated to Rustici.
The Jan and Beta Popper Endowed Professorship in Opera has been established with a $500,000 bequest from the estate of Beta Popper, who died in 2008. Beta and her husband, the late music professor and conductor Jan Popper, spent a lifetime together producing opera all over the world, notably in Asia. Beta, a mezzo-soprano who performed with the San Francisco Opera, was involved with the UC Davis Department of Music. Jan was on the UCLA faculty, but assisted many UC campuses, including UC Davis, as a visiting professor. His books and papers were donated to the UC Davis music department.
The professorship will be held by a faculty member in the music department who will pursue a broad range of scholarly and creative activities that include opera. The recipient has not yet been selected.
“Beta and Jan Popper, both individually and as a couple, spent their lives championing art music in live performance,” said D. Kern Holoman, professor of music and interim chair of the UC Davis Department of Art and Art Studio.
“Jan’s library has long supported our students in their study of the great operas. Beta’s moving gift in memory of her husband is certain to foster significant new ventures at the intersection of music performance and research — precisely where our program has achieved one of its signature strengths.”
Appointment to an endowed chair or professorship is one of the highest honors a university can bestow upon a faculty member. Created through funds that are permanently invested to provide annual income in perpetuity, these endowments support stellar teaching and research while, at the same time, ensuring the advancement of knowledge for generations to come.
About UC Davis
For more than 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has 32,000 students, an annual research budget that exceeds $600 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science. It also houses six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.