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K-State Today

November 30, 2012

Giving back to a long-ago love

Submitted by Marisa Larson

In 1936, Robert MacDonald boarded a train near Goshen, N.Y., in the Hudson Valley and headed west to Manhattan, Kan., to study veterinary medicine at Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Science. MacDonald had never left home before and when he returned home four years later, was never to leave again.

MacDonald lived on the family farm with his brother and sister, none of whom married. MacDonald opened his mixed-animal practice across the road from the farm where his brother and sister raised sheep and chickens. MacDonald had no interest in traveling, but those four years he spent at K-State made such an impression, he wanted to leave his estate to K-State’s College of Veterinary Medicine. When MacDonald passed away in April 2009 at the age of 95, he did just that, designating that his estate fund the areas most important to him.

MacDonald’s gift of some $2.5 million was divided three ways. First, he established a professorship in veterinary medicine focusing on safe food production from livestock. This professorship allowed the college to recruit and hire Dr. Jim Riviere, K-State’s first National Academy of Science faculty member. Riviere’s focus is on food animals, food safety, the appropriate use of pharmaceutical drugs on food animals, and computational modeling to reduce the use of animals in research.

“I can’t think of anybody better suited than Dr. MacDonald who really cared about the farm animal and Jim Riviere coming in here and taking food production to a higher level,” said Ralph Richardson, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. “One reason Jim was drawn to K-State is that he knew this was a place where food safety and food production would be honored and he could really make a difference.”

MacDonald had a great passion for sheep, goats and chickens, so he designated $500,000 to go to the Dr. Robert MacDonald Small Ruminant and Poultry Research Fund. This fund will support studies in goats, sheep, llamas, alpacas and poultry—an area that will benefit greatly from the added funds.

“In today’s society, meat-goat production is huge in this country, so this fund gives us an opportunity to create a focus and an expertise in a growing industry,” Richardson said.

The third area MacDonald supported was the dean’s excellence fund, with a $500,000 gift. Dean Richardson said that with this money the college will have the flexibility to jump at opportunities when they arise. The fund has already been put to good use.

“The gift to the dean’s excellence fund came at a time when we had an unexpected increase in class size,” said Chris Gruber, director of development at the College of Veterinary Medicine. “It allowed the dean to increase and renovate lab space to accommodate more students.”

The KSU Foundation staff members who came to know MacDonald say he was a kind, gentle man who was always interested in what was happening at the vet school.

“He was only here at K-State for four years but it really made an impact on his life,” said Gruber. “You’d think living more than 90 years in New York state and not coming back he’d lose his connection, but he never did. He was still talking about this diner down on Poyntz where he could get a salad, T-bone steak, baked potato and dessert for 35 cents.” 

Kent Sedlacek, senior director of gift planning, said, “If Robert knew he was making an impact at K-State, he’d be thrilled.”