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A picture of two people plant an ebony sapling

UCLA’s Congo Basin Institute receives $1 million from Bob and Cindy Taylor

A picture of two people plant an ebony sapling

Two people plant an ebony sapling

By Jonathan Riggs

In line with his long-standing commitment to environmental sustainability, master guitar maker Bob Taylor and his wife, Cindy Taylor, have donated $1.05 million to support UCLA’s Congo Basin Institute and its ebony conservation research and restoration efforts in Cameroon.

“I can think of no better partner than UCLA’s Congo Basin Institute to help protect, enhance and better understand the population of ebony trees, a precious resource to both the Congo Basin and the world in general,” said Bob Taylor, a co-founder of Taylor Guitars. “The incredible work they have already accomplished and their vision for addressing critical environmental and development issues are deeply inspiring and directly align with my own values.”

Taylor has led efforts in Cameroon to lessen tree waste by encouraging makers of stringed instruments to use variegated rather than all-black ebony. He also purchased and revitalized Cameroon’s leading sawmill, where he has implemented efforts to better use natural resources, including by starting an onsite seedling nursery.

Through those and other efforts in Cameroon, Taylor crossed paths in the mid-2010s with UCLA professor Thomas Smith, the founder and co-director of the institute, who has conducted biodiversity and conservation research in the region for nearly four decades. Since then, Bob and Cindy Taylor have donated more than $1.3 million to support the institute’s progress on several fronts, including studies of the ecology of ebony, a massive community-driven replanting program, and a new strategy for community-based rainforest restoration in the Congo Basin.

“Bob and Cindy Taylor’s leadership and generosity have helped empower the Congo Basin Institute to fulfill the highest ideals of our mission,” said Smith, who is also founding director of the Center for Tropical Research at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “They appreciate the importance of furthering science and taking action that will benefit the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest rainforest.”

Bob Taylor also is respected for his work restoring koa trees in Hawaii and trees in urban areas of Southern California.

The Congo Basin Institute, founded in 2015, was UCLA’s first foreign affiliate; it is a joint initiative between UCLA and the nonprofit International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, which is headquartered in Nigeria.

The institute operates under the auspices of the UCLA Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Creative Activities, and is supported by the divisions of life sciences and physical sciences in the UCLA College.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Photo of Morton La Kretz

$20M Gift from Morton La Kretz to Renovate Botany Building

Photo of Morton La Kretz

Morton La Kretz

 

Longtime UCLA supporter and alumnus Morton La Kretz has given a total of $20 million—$15 million this year and $5 million in 2017—to renovate the historic botany building in the southeastern part of campus. In recognition, UCLA has renamed the building the La Kretz Botany Building.

“This generous gift will provide exceptional resources and opportunities to faculty and students doing vital research in conservation and plant biology,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said. “Thanks to Morton La Kretz’s extraordinary generosity, the La Kretz Botany Building will become a world-class research facility and first-rate training ground for future scientific leaders.”Designed by pioneering architect Paul Revere Williams and completed in 1959, the building has been home to generations of renowned faculty and researchers. It features a third-floor glass façade that gives occupants a view of the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden and many of the plants they are studying.

The renovation, which is already underway, includes a refurbished entrance and lobby accessed from Charles E. Young Drive; upgraded labs for teaching and research on botany and conservation; and a new technologically enabled class lab with an entrance on the south side of the building accessible to the garden. The project is expected to be completed in January 2022.

“We are tremendously grateful to Morton La Kretz,” said Victoria Sork, UCLA’s dean of life sciences. “His philanthropy has had a monumental impact on research and education on environmental and plant conservation studies at UCLA, and his latest gift to revitalize the botany building is yet another shining example.”

La Kretz is the founder and president of Crossroads Management, a real estate development and property management company. Among his notable achievements is saving Hollywood’s historic landmark Crossroads of the World from demolition in 1977 and restoring it to its former 1930s glory.

Born in Illinois to Eastern European immigrants, La Kretz moved with his family to Boyle Heights in Los Angeles at a young age. There, his father established a grocery business and later owned a market on 9th St. and Hoover in central Los Angeles, where La Kretz stocked shelves and worked as a delivery boy during high school.

One of few students from his high school to go to college, La Kretz said, “I was ambitious, and my parents expected me to go to college.  After all, going to college was the way up.”

By the time he arrived at UCLA, the United States had entered World War II and the campus was changing dramatically.

“UCLA became a training ground for officers, and you expected to be drafted at any time,” he said. “It colored almost everything.”

Like many of his fellow students, La Kretz interrupted his education by enlisting. He traded classes for boot camp and became an electronics technician in the Navy, but the war ended before he saw any action. Having been gone for two years, he returned to UCLA and earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1948, while also taking business classes.

After graduation, La Kretz was eager to get to work. He took a job in a lumberyard and began learning everything he could about construction. Eventually, with financial assistance from his parents, he spearheaded his own construction projects and was soon riding the wave of the 1950s postwar building boom.

For all his success in business, La Kretz said he is most proud of his philanthropy and its impact.

“It is so satisfying to give young people an education that will enable them to focus on the pressing environmental and conservation issues of our time,” he said.

He said his latest gifts aligned well with his philanthropy to UCLA over the past 16 years. His previous major gifts include lead gifts toward the construction of La Kretz Hall, which houses UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability  (IoES); to create the La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science, located in the Santa Monica Mountains and administered through the IoES in partnership with the National Park Service; to build an entrance to the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, and to construct the La Kretz Garden Pavilion, which hosts events and classes and  serves as a visitor center at the garden’s north end.

La Kretz is 92, but he has no plans to retire. He has passed on his passion for philanthropy to his daughter, Linda Duttenhaver, vice president of Crossroads Management. Duttenhaver shares his interest in supporting higher education and the environment: In 2017, she and her father established the La Kretz Research Center at Sedgwick Reserve, operated by UC Santa Barbara as part of the University of California Natural Reserve System.

La Kretz’s recent gifts are part of the UCLA Centennial Campaign, which is scheduled to conclude in December 2019 during UCLA’s 100th anniversary year.

UCLA receives $25 million gift to support humanities division and philosophy department

Students studying in Powell library

The gift will help the humanities division and philosophy department recruit and retain top faculty, and attract the most outstanding graduate students.

 

The UCLA College humanities division has received its largest ever gift — and one of the largest ever to any university philosophy department: $25 million in honor of two longtime UCLA faculty members.

Of the total, $20 million will support the philosophy department; the other $5 million will provide seed funding to create a planned $15 million endowment to provide financial support for graduate students in the humanities division.

Jordan Kaplan, his wife, Christine, and Jordan’s longtime business partner, Ken Panzer, made the gift in honor of Jordan’s parents, Renée and David Kaplan — each of whom has been a member of the UCLA faculty for almost 60 years — and to recognize his father’s contributions to the study of philosophy.

In recognition of the gift, UCLA’s Humanities Building will be renamed Renée and David Kaplan Hall.

“This extraordinary gift signals a new era for the humanities at UCLA and, in particular, for philosophy,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “It’s more important than ever to instill in our students the philosophical perspective that helps make sense of today’s complex societal challenges.”

Jordan Kaplan is the CEO and president of Douglas Emmett Inc., a real estate investment trust. David Kaplan is a renowned scholar of philosophical logic and the philosophy of language, and Renée Kaplan was a clinical professor of psychology and the director of training at UCLA Student Psychological Services. Both Renée and David earned doctorates at UCLA.

“We are proud to participate in UCLA’s Centennial Campaign and be able to meaningfully support Humanities and Philosophy, areas of study that we feel are particularly important now to the health of our modern society,” Jordan Kaplan said. “Our hope is that this gift will encourage others to recognize the importance of these departments and join us in providing them with very much needed support.”

The gift, the second largest made to the UCLA College during the ongoing Centennial Campaign for UCLA, comes two years after Renée, David, Jordan and Christine Kaplan donated funds to establish the Presidential Professor of Philosophy endowed chair.

The new gift will help the humanities division and philosophy department recruit and retain top faculty, and attract the most outstanding graduate students.

“We are deeply grateful for this inspirational gift from Christine and Jordan Kaplan and Ken Panzer,” said Scott Waugh, UCLA’s executive vice chancellor and provost. “It demonstrates not only their commitment to advancing the excellence of the humanities and our study of philosophy, but also their confidence in UCLA’s academic mission as we enter our second century.”

The study of philosophy has been a cornerstone of the humanities at UCLA since the campus’ founding in 1919; an endowed chair in philosophy that was established in 1928 was the first in UCLA’s history. Among the department’s current faculty are recipients of Mellon and Guggenheim fellowships and National Science Foundation grants, and members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Council of Learned Societies. UCLA doctoral graduates in philosophy have gone on to teach at the most preeminent universities around the world.

“This gift will help make our department of philosophy the bellwether for departments of its kind around the world,” said David Schaberg, dean of the humanities division. “Especially valuable is the opportunity to build a $15 million endowment for graduate students in the humanities on the basis of the generous matching fund the gift creates.”

Professor Seana Shiffrin, chair of the philosophy department, said the gift will be transformative for the future of the department.

“Philosophical issues touch on every aspect of life — including issues about what sort of creatures we are and could become, what we can know of ourselves and others, how we should treat one another, whether we are capable of forming a better society and what that would look like, and the significance of our mortality,” she said. “A philosophy education introduces students to captivating ideas and perennial questions while imparting crucial skills of analysis, argumentation, clarity, and precision.

“In its capacity both to stimulate and to discipline the imagination, training in philosophy empowers students to enter any career, while enriching their entire lives by opening up new avenues of thought and fresh possibilities for living.”

The gift is part of the UCLA Centennial Campaign, which is scheduled to conclude in December 2019, during UCLA’s 100th anniversary year.