The Gift of the Green
The following tribute to Pierre Samuel du Pont was presented on Saturday, May 11, 1957, by then University of Delaware President John A. Perkins, on the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone of P.S. du Pont Hall.
Every citizen of the state of Delaware is peculiarly indebted to one man.
Pierre Samuel du Pont would not have cared for that thought, for he was a modest man, despite enormous accomplishments in several fields. It is our right and duty, nevertheless, to insist upon grateful acknowledgment and public acceptance of that debt. We are therefore met to name this building in his honor.
Our gratitude is two-fold. First, for the magnitude, the number, and the substance of his public benefactions. Great as these were, however, they must take second place to the conviction and spirit with which they were made. It is that conviction and that spirit which lend ultimate significance to the many millions he gave for the public good. He believed in sound education. He expressed that belief not only through donations of money, but through personal dedication and expenditure of personal effort. Through contribution of his time, his intelligence, and his competence, he further increased the high esteem in which his family name has been held by his fellow citizens in the state of Delaware and elsewhere.
Pierre Samuel du Pont believed education to be the key to most social problems. When he discovered that the public school system of Delaware was a poor one, he characteristically took action. First, he studied what needed doing. Then he crusaded vigorously to get it done. Many of the-then existing schools were of the one-room type. Average attendance of pupils was 90 days a year. The entire annual school budget in some districts was as low as $500. Owing to his work the school system of Delaware was rebuilt, physically and otherwise. The states educational rating climbed from near the bottom to high among the first 10 in the country.
With the assistance of Dr. Joseph Odell, a group called The Service Citizens of Delaware was formed. Mr. du Pont established a trust fund of $2 million to support it, and he began to bring expert findings to public attention. By 1920 his work and exhortations brought about the first State Board of Education in Delaware. He was at once appointed a member of it by Gov. John G. Townsend. A system of consolidated schools was designed and submitted to the school districts for approval. Taxes upon individual incomes and corporation franchises were imposed exclusively for school purposes.
There was opposition. Lest taxpayers should refuse to build new schools for Negroes, Mr. du Pont built them with his own money, contributing more than $2 million for this purpose. He personally saw to it that the Negro schools were models of their kind.
Let it be especially noted that Mr. du Pont, a shy man, faced his critics at public meetings in town halls, churches, and school houses throughout the state. At the same time, this conscientious citizen was engaged in such complex business matters as the reorganization and reordering of the finances of General Motors Corp. But he did not permit himself to be distracted from the battle for good schools. In brief, he did not buy this job done; he did it.
When collection of the new personal income tax he had advocated proved difficult, Mr. du Pont undertook to collect it himself. In 1925, he was named State Tax Commissioner by Gov. Robert P. Robinson. He staffed the tax office at his own expense. Collections rose sevenfold from 1922 to 1930. The quality of public education in Delaware improved commensurately.
Between 1921 and 1935, very largely as a result of Mr. du Ponts activity, the total spent for new schools in Delaware exceeded $18 million, of which more than 30 percent was contributed by Mr. du Pont. Engineering, supervisory and clerical work in connection with school construction in Delaware was contributed through the activities of the Delaware School Foundation, which he founded, and from which education in Delaware still benefits.
Higher education in Delaware, along with the public schools, received Mr. du Ponts generous attention. His sincere and abiding interest in the University of Delaware is attested by many contributions. He enabled the University to acquire the land on which we now stand; he contributed funds toward the construction of Harter and Wolf Halls, and the renovation of Old College. He also aided in the construction of Kent Dining Hall. Earlier, he had established the original fund from which our endowment grew. A last modest gift was made but a few months before his death.
In pre-war years, when enrollments were smaller, he and Mrs. du Pont entertained the entire Summer School of the University at an annual reception and banquet at Longwood, his country estate. Could there be better evidence of his warm personal generosity and friendly interest in the affairs of the University and the life of its students? Mr. du Pont also established scholarships for the training of teachers, and maintained a private scholarship fund for sending worthy young people to college, here and elsewhere.
In 1935 his native city of Wilmington named in his honor its newest high school, one of the finest in the United States. The Government of France honored him by making him a Chevalier, and later a Commander, of its Legion dHonneur.
Mr. du Ponts public interests were not confined to education. Though education was his first love, he had still anotherLongwood. His country home has been, and is, to all intents a public park and botanical garden. Famous for its great arboretum, its flower gardens, conservatories, fountains, and fine pipe organ, the estate is visited by more than 100,000 people annually. He was an ardent horticulturalist, and personally supervised the construction and planning of many of the greenhouses and gardens. He held the George Robert White medal of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, highest award of its kind in the United States, and in 1940, jointly with Mrs. du Pont, he received the gold medal of the New York Horticultural Society, a rarely bestowed honor.
Pierre Samuel du Pont, generous as he was in his lifetime, bequeathed his considerable residual estate to aid the interests he had already so richly benefited. The Longwood Foundations gift, in support of an initial and larger gift of another foundation, makes this new engineering building possible.
This building, P.S. du Pont Hall, dedicated to the Science of Engineering, and now named in honor of Pierre Samuel du Pont, stands as a symbol of his conviction that education in his native state should be strong. For in education lies the hope of mans progress.