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Danforth Foundation to dissolve, awards Plant Science Center its final $70 million

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 7, 2011 - The Danforth Foundation on Friday announced that it would give away its final $70 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and close its doors at the end of May.

The latest grant brings to $226 million the amount that the foundation has given to the Plant Science Center since the center was founded in 1998.

The new money will be used in the first phase of a three-part expansion of the center's staff and facilities.

"The foundation was built on stock of the Ralston Purina Co., which defined its business as feeding the world," said John C. Danforth, a former Missouri senator and chairman of the foundation.

"There is nothing better we can do than transfer the assets to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center," he said. "St. Louis should never be just another rust belt city. We should be satisfied with nothing less than greatness, and with plant science that is what we are becoming."

Plant science, he said, holds enormous economic promise for St. Louis but its great mission is nothing less than to feed the world. Danforth said he had seen real hunger -- on the Cambodian border, for example, and in rural Mozambique, where forests have been destroyed because hungry people have stripped bark from trees for food.

He noted the center is in the middle of America's grain belt and has cooperative programs with universities in the region, with Monsanto Co., and with the Missouri Botanical Garden.

His brother, Dr. William H. Danforth, a former chancellor at Washington University as well as chairman of the Plant Science Center and vice chairman of the foundation, followed his brother to the podium.  "This is a time for gratitude," he said.

He also observed that "St. Louis has quickly become a world leader in plant science, and the Danforth Center and its partner institutions are at the core of this effort. The future is bright for St. Louis and for the results of our work. I see the Danforth Center as both a gift to St. Louis and a gift from St. Louis to the wider world."

Dr. Danforth said the foundation's giving had been thoughtful and judicious: "It never just gave to whatever came through the door." He spoke of the foundation's commitments to education and praised it for its leadership in helping to create programs to bring minorities and women into the mainstream, and then to help to build St. Louis.

"We in this center are grateful and we want to express that. We believe in our work, and this will be help to carry our work forward," he said.

Money will not change fundamentals. "The mission will remain the same: to provide food."

"We knew this wonderful gift would mean more work, not less,"  Dr. Danforth said. "When you get to the top of the hill, you have to ask, 'What's next?'"

He then introduced the person responsible for "what's next": James C. Carrington, incoming president of the center, who realized he had hard acts to follow in this ceremony, if not elsewhere.

"Raise your hand if you've ever had to speak after two icons," Carrington requested.

Carrington told the audience, "These funds ... will be moved and put to work ... on a permanent basis, dedicated to keeping the center at the forefront of creative science's work."

Carrington said the money will pay for hiring five new scientific researchers, expanding the center's ability to perform work in bio-informatics and biocomputing, and enlarging opportunities for training so that talented scientists and students will be encouraged to remain in the St. Louis area.

"We will focus on addressing some of the major unanswered problems in plant science," he said, "such as how genes interact with changing environments to control crop yield, growth and resistance to stress. The grant will also accelerate the translation of basic discoveries into commercial applications, which the St. Louis region is particularly well suited to accomplishing."

The grant from the Danforth Foundation will be used to support the Plant Science Center's endowment of $200 million; income from that money will help pay for the first stage of its planned expansion. The second and third phases will rely on support from the St. Louis community.

Both William and John Danforth are sons of the man for whom the Plant Science Center is named and grandsons of William H. Danforth, who established Ralston Purina and began the foundation 84 years ago.

Over its history, the Danforth Foundation has awarded more than 4,700 grants valued at more than $1.2 billion. It began in 1927 with a concentration on education on a national scale, but in 1997 it sharpened its focus to the St. Louis area, specifically on plant and life sciences, neighborhood redevelopment and downtown revitalization.

Last week, the Beacon announced it had received $1.25 million grant from the foundation.

Robert W. Duffy reported on arts and culture for St. Louis Public Radio. He had a 32-year career at the Post-Dispatch, then helped to found the St. Louis Beacon, which merged in January with St. Louis Public Radio. He has written about the visual arts, music, architecture and urban design throughout his career.
Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.