With the stroke of a pen, officials with the University of Maine at Presque Isle received a gift of $1 million from benefactor Mary Barton Akeley Smith to establish the first-ever endowed chair in the institution’s history.


The permanent faculty position was formally named the Dr. Robert Vinton Akeley Chair of Agricultural Science and Agribusiness during an official announcement and naming ceremony on Oct. 23.

Smith—who lives in California, hails from Presque Isle, and whose generosity has benefited several Presque Isle institutions over the years—offered the gift in honor of her father, Dr. Robert Akeley, and in memory of her husband, Rodney Smith.

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“This is an incredible milestone for UMPI, not only because this is the largest one-time gift we’ve ever received, but also because it’s the first gift of this magnitude ever explicitly designated to the development of an academic program—our new Agricultural Science and Agribusiness program—that will directly impact the economy and well-being of the County for generations to come,” UMPI President Ray Rice said. “We give our most sincere and profound thanks to Mrs. Mary Barton Akeley Smith for this gift. Her exceptional interest in the economic development of the County, her vision and generosity, and her engagement with higher education, is truly remarkable.”

Smith’s gift to UMPI’s Foundation endows a permanent faculty position within UMPI’s Agricultural Science and Agribusiness program. Funds will support the initial salary and benefits for the position as well as start-up costs of the program during the first four years—including equipment for the program and greenhouse, and summer research fellowships—with the balance held in an endowment.


“I was so proud of my father when the University of Maine at Orono showed appreciation for his work by granting him an honorary doctorate degree,” Smith said. “It is now so fitting that the University of Maine at Presque Isle is naming the chair of its new Agricultural Science and Agribusiness program after him. What a wonderful final chapter.”

The endowed chair is named in honor of Dr. Robert Vinton Akeley, a Presque Isle native who was an internationally known potato breeder and leader of the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Potato Breeding Program. He attended the University of Maine, graduating in 1937 with a Bachelor’s degree in Agronomy and in 1942 with a Master’s degree in Botany.

In 1942, he began conducting the Potato Breeding Program at the Aroostook Farm in Presque Isle for the Federal Program of Potato Investigations. In 1956, he transferred to Maryland to serve as leader of the National Potato Breeding Program, and in 1960, he assumed the leadership of Potato Investigations.

Akeley was directly or indirectly responsible for the release of 40 new potato varieties, including the Kennebec. His work in potato breeding received international recognition, and he authored more than 100 publications.

The Dr. Robert Vinton Akeley Chair will allow UMPI officials to build upon the newly established Agricultural Science and Agribusiness program.

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