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College honors Davis family with library name

MIDDLEBURY — At a ceremony that packed the atrium of Middlebury College’s six-year-old library with hundreds of students, faculty and trustees, President Ron Liebowitz announced the long-secret new name for the building: “The Davis Family Library.”
Jim Davis, class of 1966, and his wife, Anne, were on hand to accept the honor, which Liebowitz said was in return for years of support from the family — including more than $70 million, mostly in the form of anonymous donations and challenge grants. Also honored were son Christopher Davis, who graduated from the college in 2008, and daughter Kassia Davis.
“This was the most significant recognition we could give,” said Liebowitz in a speech introducing Davis and his family.
With the family’s anonymous pledge to match alumni donations, said Liebowitz, the college had raised alumni participation in annual giving from 50 percent to last year’s 62 percent — the highest in the nation. The family’s specific donations, he said, have always been targeted at the library, student financial aid, faculty support and athletic programs.
And the Davis family was instrumental in the building of the new library. In the spring of 2000, the dot-com bubble burst and college officials were unsure whether it was financially viable to move forward on the plans to build the new library. Jim Davis, then a member of the board of trustees and now a trustee emeritus, insisted that something so fundamental to a liberal arts college as a state-of-the-art library could not be put off.
“He promised that if finances became a problem, he would step in and make sure the college was covered,” said Liebowitz. “So we went ahead.”
Today, six years after its opening, the library serves not only as a storage space for books and references, but also as a hub that networks the entire campus to extensive online databases.
As part of a panel preceding the library’s dedication on the importance of the library in the digital age (hindered by a power outage that prevented the panelists from presenting their slideshows) history professor Paul Monod commented on the significant improvements that the library’s databases have brought in students’ academic work.
“When I started teaching 25 years ago, if a student found an article it was a miracle,” he said. “Now I can expect that.”
Monod then added a remark that drew a laugh.
“To my mind, (the library is) a sensuous place to read books. Almost erotic,” he said.
To the relief of event organizers, the power returned before the dedication ceremony began.
FROM HUMBLE ROOTS
Six years out of Middlebury College, in 1972, Jim Davis purchased a little-known sneaker company that had six employees, made around 30 pairs of shoes each day, and sold shoes by mail order. Under Davis, that company, New Balance, went on to become one of the largest sneaker manufacturers in the world, the only one that still produces its shoes in the United States, and a firm well known for socially conscious and charitable giving.
Jim Davis still serves as chairman to the privately traded company, and Anne Davis is vice chairman, executive vice president for administration and the head of the New Balance Charitable Foundation. Their son, Chris Davis, also works for the company.
In his speech to the crowd gathered, Jim Davis explained his family’s longtime wish to remain anonymous.
“As a family, we do not seek and are not accustomed to receiving public acknowledgement of our community endeavors,” he said.
But he added that the time had come to accept the honor.
“In this case we thought our example might inspire others to rethink their charitable commitments,” he said. “We also thought our example might inspire a greater appreciation for the free enterprise system that has allowed all of us to be sitting where we are today.”
He explained that his father had emigrated from Greece alone at the age of fifteen and had worked hard to earn opportunities for Davis and his siblings. Anne’s family, he said, had a similar story.
“Through hard work, determination and ingenuity, this country allowed our parents to provide us and our siblings the means to earn a degree they only dreamed about,” Davis said.
He added that the college’s generosity had helped him through his college education.
“I also received significant aid from the college, however, only when my grades allowed. Which wasn’t very often,” he said with a smile. “I still have nightmares that I didn’t graduate.”
Davis went on to speak of the need for the college to lead as an institute of higher education in an increasingly global economy, including controlling costs and further expanding the breadth of the Middlebury College name.
“If we effectively leverage these assets, learn to seek, accept and welcome change, to think outside the entrenched academic tradition, if we accept that the only constant in today’s complex world is change itself, then we will have a new formula clearly separating us from the pack,” he said. “We can truly be the only global liberal arts college.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at andreas@addisonindependent.com.

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