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Fall 2002
Volume 39, No. 1
Issue Home

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PCMOnline Editor: Sarah Dolinar


Capping the Campaign

The second largest gift in Pomona history extends the remarkable legacy of Frank R. Seaver, Class of 1905.

While still a junior, Frank R. Seaver, Class of 1905, set the tone for his family’s history of philanthropic service to Pomona.

In 1903–04, he recruited fellow students for a challenging cause. They plotted lines, hefted boulders, wielded rakes and planted grass to create, amid the sweep of dry chapparal beneath the San Gabriels, Pomona’s first football field.

Ninety-nine years later, the College has received $23.3 million from the Seaver estate to help fulfill another vision: the renewal and expansion of the Seaver Science Center, considered one of the West’s educational jewels when it was conceived in the 1950s.

“Over the course of 50 years, three generations of the Seaver family have written one of the great chapters in philanthropy at Pomona College,” said Peter Stanley, president of the College. “This magnificent gift completes what Frank Seaver began a half-century ago when he set out to give Pomona the best undergraduate teaching facilities for science in the Western half of the United States.

“These facilities have enabled Pomona to hire and retain outstanding faculty, and to give those faculty and their students exceptional opportunities for research as well as classroom teaching. Because of this, Pomona ranks among the top 10 of all colleges and universities in the United States in the percentage of its graduates who subsequently earn PhDs in the sciences.”

Seaver, a biology major at Pomona, went on to study law at Harvard University. He practiced in Los Angeles and was elected a freeholder of Los Angeles County, an office that was a predecessor to the Board of Supervisors. As a freeholder, he helped draft the Los Angeles County Charter. He joined the California Naval Militia before the start of World War I, and during the war years, married a piano teacher from Chicago, Blanche Ebert.

While in the militia Seaver became acquainted with California oil magnate Edward L. Doheny, and he subsequently went to work for Doheny’s companies as a counsel and executive. During the Great Depression, Seaver struck out on his own. He took over the small Doheny Stone Drill Co. and renamed it Hydril Corporation. The company makes blowout-prevention equipment and other specialized parts for the oil industry. Especially during the industry’s early years, oilfield workers faced fearful odds of injury and death from blowouts as they fed sections of pipe into the hole when a drill bored into deep interstices of scaldingly hot oil under extreme pressure. Advances by Hydril and others have sharply reduced the dangers of such explosive eruptions and spills, and Hydril equipment is now used in every major oil-producing region in the world.

The Seavers are best known for their philanthropy, however. Frank Seaver, the first president of the Associated Student Body, was a Pomona trustee from 1947 until his death in 1964. Between 1958 and 1965, gifts from the Seavers funded the construction of the Seaver Laboratory for Biology and Geology, known as Seaver South; the Seaver Laboratory for Chemistry (Seaver North), which was completely renovated in 2001 as part of The Campaign for Pomona College; and the Millikan Laboratory for Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy.

The theatre-like lecture halls, stationary lab equipment and clearly delineated disciplines that characterized science teaching when the Seaver Science Center was built have since yielded to small-group and collaborative studies, rapid changes in technology, and multidisciplinary research. To respond to changes in the way chemistry and the life sciences are taught, the renovation and expansion of Pomona’s science facilities was made a major goal of the five-year comprehensive campaign that began in 1997.

Victoria Seaver Dean, president of The Seaver Institute, which administers the trust of the Seaver estate, said the Institute’s board members are excited to be involved in the renewal and expansion of the Seaver Science Center. “This project is consistent with the legacy of Frank R. Seaver and the tradition he established in providing optimum facilities for a superior science curriculum at Pomona College,” she said.

Plans call for the complete rebuilding of Seaver South. Among other enhancements, the renovation will add a new neuroscience laboratory and create space for “active learning” that involves collaboration among students and faculty. The science center will be also expanded through the construction of a new 46,000-square-foot life sciences building that will house laboratories and offices of the Biology Department and the Molecular Biology program. The total cost of the science center project is expected to be about $40 million.
“Having so much of the money in hand a year before we break ground for the new building and for the renovation of Seaver South is astounding,” said David Becker, the John P. and Magdalena R. Dexter Professor of Botany and associate professor of biology at Pomona. “There was some worry that if the funding was not in hand, it would delay things, and with delay comes cost increases,” said Becker, chair of a steering committee that is advising the architects and laboratory consultants. “Not having to worry about that is very significant.”

The Seaver family’s legacy in science at Pomona, Becker said, “is really remarkable. When the science center project is completed, I think everybody’s going to be delighted to use it, to study in it, to learn in it, to do research in it. It will be an exciting place, and one that we think will meet our needs for a long time.”

Pomona has not been the only beneficiary of Seaver family philanthropy. The University of Southern California, Pepperdine University and Rockford College in Illinois are among the educational institutions that also have received substantial gifts. Pepperdine opened Seaver College in 1972 in honor of Frank R. and Blanche Ebert Seaver. Pepperdine’s description of the college says that “What Pomona College did for Frank Seaver is what Seaver College hopes to accomplish in the lives of young people. Augmenting his strong family training, Pomona College taught him integrity, discipline, self-responsibility, hard work and thrift.”

There are many ties between Pomona College and the Seaver family. Frank Seaver’s five siblings all attended the College, as did other family members. A gift from Richard Seaver ’43, a nephew of Frank Seaver, funded the College’s Byron Dick Seaver Theatre, named for Richard’s father, a member of the Class of 1908. A former Seaver family residence houses the College’s Alumni Relations Office.

The $23.3 million gift, the second largest in Pomona’s history, followed a vote of The Seaver Institute Board of Directors to release the principal assets of Pomona’s portion of a trust established by Frank Seaver. According to the board’s resolutions, it voted to distribute the funds at this time because it “believes that the renovation and expansion of the Seaver Science Center at Pomona College is the very activity that Frank R. Seaver intended his trust to support.”

Seaver’s view, summed up in a plaque on display at the Seaver Laboratory for Chemistry, was that “If you want to do something for the future of your country, do something for the youth, for they are the future of the country.”

—Michael Balchunas