$10M gift from Robert J. DeArmond Trust lifts UO research

Bob and Leona DeArmond

A recent $10 million gift from the Robert J. DeArmond Trust will accelerate research that improves lives as well as the state’s economy. The Southern Oregon-based organization is investing in the university’s greatest asset — its people.

As construction of the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact continues on the north side of Eugene’s Franklin Boulevard, donors are stepping up to support the scientists who will work there. Heeding the call, and following the example of the Knights and philanthropists such as Lorry I. Lokey, the DeArmond Trust has invested in the UO faculty and innovative research happening at the new campus.

“We are creating a place that will harness the latest discoveries in science to improve the lives of humans throughout the world,” said Michael H. Schill, UO president and professor of law.  “By supporting our faculty members and their vital work, the DeArmond Trust is helping manifest the extraordinary vision of Phil and Penny Knight. We are grateful for their generous, forward-looking philanthropy.”

The gift will provide a permanent research fund in the form of an endowment for the Robert and Leona DeArmond Executive Director of the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. Beginning this summer, that directorship will be held by scientist and entrepreneur Robert Guldberg, who currently leads the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

“I am honored to be the first to hold the endowed director position,” Guldberg said. “This will be a highly visible and enduring legacy of the generosity of the DeArmonds. Their gift will build on the UO’s existing strengths on campus and help launch a new interdisciplinary seed grant program designed to support faculty-led projects. I hope to grow this program significantly over the coming years to connect groups within the UO and foster research collaborations with Oregon Health & Science University.”

The gift will also support efforts within the Knight Campus to recruit outstanding senior faculty members and accelerate research at the interface of bioengineering, neuroengineering and medicine.

A graduate of Medford High School, where UO track legend Bill Bowerman was his football coach, retired lumber products company executive Robert DeArmond earned his UO degree in business administration in 1952. He served as a UO Foundation trustee for a decade.

Leona De Armond (1929-2017) was a 1951 UO graduate who grew up in Tillamook. She studied voice and piano and sang with the university choir.

As alumni, the DeArmonds worked with the UO to develop creative, inspiring ways to give where it would make the most difference. Both Robert and Leona received the UO’s Presidential Medal in 2004.

By providing a permanent funding source for the director, the DeArmond Trust gift fulfills a timely and crucial leadership need, said Peter Brix of the Robert J. DeArmond Trust.

“As an Oregon business leader, Bob recognizes the value of investing in people, as do the other trustees and I,” Brix said. “We are pleased to leverage the historic commitment of the Knights and join other donors in supporting this exciting effort. We look forward to seeing how Knight Campus research leads to new industries and startup companies for Oregon, while educating the next generation of leaders in science and industry for our state.”

The idea for the Knight Campus started with UO faculty members and was given fertile ground by Schill, who challenged them first to dream big and then to make those dreams a reality. The mission of the campus centers on the UO’s interdisciplinary tradition, which dates back to the 1950s in molecular biology.

The Knights kicked off the effort in 2016 with a $500 million lead gift, the largest contribution ever to a public university. State lawmakers have approved $70 million in state bonds toward the project. The first phase includes a $225 million, 160,000-square-foot structure, which will be built on the north side of Franklin Boulevard between Onyx Street and Riverfront Parkway. It is slated to open in early 2020.

The UO has pledged to incorporate Oregon-manufactured wood products — particularly cross-laminated timber — in the design of the building to further support the state’s economy. Many public-facing areas of the building will have wood expressed in exposed beams, ceilings, walls and staircases.

The DeArmonds have been avid donors to the university for years. In 2005, their leadership challenge gift helped launch the fundraising effort for construction of the MarAbel B. Frohnmayer Music Building, inspiring Lorry I. Lokey and other donors to contribute.

The building opened in 2009, and its academic wing is named in honor of Leona DeArmond. So is one of the school’s four world-class Steinway grand pianos, a gift to the UO from Bob, to surprise Leona on her birthday.

In turn, the DeArmonds were inspired by Lokey’s commitment to expanding the UO’s science capabilities, and in 2009 they made a key investment in the Lokey Integrative Science Complex, a forerunner of the Knight Campus.

They have supported substantial scholarships in business, music and athletics, and have given to UO Libraries, the Olum Child Development program and the UO’s Allan Price Science Commons and Research Library. In addition to their financial contributions, the DeArmonds have volunteered generously to the university with their time and leadership.

By Ed Dorsch, University Communications