The Importance of Philanthropy in Conservation and Education

Berea College owes its existence to philanthropy.  Since Cassius Clay donated ten acres to John G. Fee in 1853, many generous folks have donated large and small contributions to insure that Berea College prosper and continue to provide a tuition-free education to students who most likely would not have been able to attend college otherwise.  The Berea College Forest, similarly, owes its existence to philanthropy.  Silas Mason, the first Berea College Forester, made the first land purchase in 1898 with his own funds.  His stated purpose for the forest was to provide for the study of forestry and to supply wood and income for the College.   A pioneer in American forestry, Mason understood that forests could be, and should be, sustainably managed for future generations and that education was key to conservation. Over the next twenty years, due to the generosity of Ms. Sarah Fay, of Boston, the forest holdings had reached 5,400 acres. 

The Bernheim Forest, near Louisville, is another well-known Kentucky forest that is enjoyed by many. Established in 1929 on land donated by whiskey-distiller Isaac W. Bernheim to the people of Kentucky for a gift. “…I have expressed my intention that said property… be held in trust… and said fourteen thousand acres be used for a park, for an arboretum, and, under certain conditions, for a museum, all of which are to be developed and forester maintained… for the people of Kentucky, and their friends, as a place to further their love of the beautiful in nature and in art, and in kindred cultural subjects, and for educational purposes, and as a means of strengthening their love and devotion to their state and country.”

I find the quote by Bernheim fascinating and complete.  He twice mentions love:  love of the beautiful in nature and in art… and love and devotion to state and country.  There is wisdom in his statement. I hope that the Berea College Forest, as well as the Bernheim Forest, does provide a place in which people can further their love of these things.  Yes, conservation and education go hand in hand, but sometimes I think people don’t care what you know unless they know that you care.  Fortunately, philanthropists have cared over the years enough to provide some of our most treasured places enjoyed today.

Leo Drey, of St. Louis, Missiouri, is another notable philanthropist.  Drey was the largest private landowner in Missouri until he gave away all of his property for the enjoyment of others.  In 2004, Drey donated his 146,000 acres of Ozark forest lands to a charity that will continue his mission of sustainable forestry. Recently, Mr. Drey passed away, and he even donated his body… to the Washington University School of Medicine.

Another notable St. Louis philanthropist, Henry Shaw.  He also donated land for Tower Grove Park in St. Louis, endowed Washington University’s School of Botany, and helped found the Missouri Historical Society.  He gave the city a school and land on which to build a hospital.  Shaw, however, is most famous for establishing one of the world’s first and most highly regarded botanical gardens.  Working with leading botanists of his time, he planned, funded and built the Missouri Botanical Gardens in 1859.  Today, the Garden is a National Historic Landmark and a center for conservation and education.

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