Hardhats and shiny shovels notwithstanding, the recent groundbreaking at the Catalina Island campus of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies was not your typical university celebration.
The invite advised island attire. Guests arrived by boat and helicopter. And, perhaps most unusual, the majority of the construction of the George and MaryLou Boone Center for Science and Environmental Leadership will not take place at the bull-dozed site where USC College and Wrigley Institute leaders and supporters gathered to celebrate Oct. 12.
Instead, building is set to begin on six new cottages on a rented dock in L.A. Harbor, about 22 miles northeast of the island. Once built, the cottages will be transported by barge to Catalina, where they will be placed on foundations and finished.
The new accommodations, along with previous and subsequent building projects, will allow USC College to host more leadership and planning retreats, training programs, high-profile conferences, and environmental conflict resolution negotiations at the island campus, officially called the Philip K. Wrigley Marine Science Center. These are expected to explore not only scientific topics, but also environmental policy, education and other issues at the interface between science and society.
In the last year alone, the Wrigley Institute has hosted 13 high-level scientific meetings and retreats, plus programs for nine USC schools and four departments in USC College.
At the ceremony, an enthusiastic Delta Murphy, chair of the institute’s advisory board, thanked George and MaryLou Boone for their efforts to bring the project to fruition.
“This is a glorious day for all of us,” Murphy said. “And we could not have done it without you, George.”
Peter Starr, dean of USC College, concurred. “The College is eternally grateful for the support of George and MaryLou Boone,” he said. “[George’s] personal dream has been to help transform the Wrigley Institute into a world-class facility and international destination for scientific scholarship.
“With the creation of the George and MaryLou Boone Center for Science and Environmental Leadership…we are well on our way to becoming the premier destination for scientists and policy makers coming together to resolve environmental and marine science concerns,” Starr said.
A USC Life Trustee and member of the College Board of Councilors, George Boone has provided dedicated support to the Wrigley Institute and its mission, which has played a critical role in the growth of the island campus. Five years ago, a gift from the Boones enabled the Wrigley Institute to construct a cottage, called the Boone House. In 2004, George and MaryLou Boone made a lead gift to establish the Boone Center. Since then, a number of other benefactors have stepped forward.
“More than a decade ago,” George Boone said, “I first thought that more should be done with the Wrigley Center. We made a commitment then…. With these new buildings, scientists will have a better place to work, students a better place to learn.
“But to think of this project solely in terms of bricks and mortar downplays the scope and meaning of what we are accomplishing,” he said. “Conversations and ideas shared here have the potential to improve the habitat in which we live.”
Starr also thanked the Wrigley Institute’s director, Anthony Michaels, for “his ideas, knowledge and, yes, determination to make this happen.”
“We’re building not just better houses, but a vision for what we want to accomplish in the next phase of the Wrigley Institute and USC College,” Michaels said. “Today, we’re witnessing the next step, the beginning of the transformation of USC Wrigley into a pre-eminent center for research and for the development of solutions to environmental problems.”
After lunch, attendees reviewed architectural plans for the cottages built around a courtyard. In addition to the new houses, further phases of the plan call for the renovation of the dining hall, dormitory rooms and select meeting rooms, among other infrastructure improvements.
Guests then toured the four existing houses and one renovated apartment built in recent years. In addition to the Boones, a number of supporters of previous construction projects and the new Boone Center were on-hand to celebrate the groundbreaking.
USC alumna Patsy Ziegler Dewey (’58) and her son Brock (’83), a member of the Wrigley Institute’s advisory board, attended the event. Their family, which also includes Patsy’s sons Scott and Chip, made a $1 million gift to establish the Dewey Family House as part of the Boone Center. “We saw the Wrigley Institute grow from the very beginning and we wanted to contribute in some way to help it become a world-class facility,” Patsy Dewey, CEO of Dewey Services, Inc., said. “I think the Boone Center will allow the College to draw even more professors of high caliber.”
Elizabeth (’84) and Robert (’50) Plumleigh were at the groundbreaking, but it was their first tour of the Wrigley Institute’s research campus three years ago that made a lasting impression. “It became clear to me that not enough people are aware of what is going on at Catalina,” Robert Plumleigh said. It motivated the couple, longtime members of the Trojan Family who have previously given to the Wrigley Institute, to pledge $1 million to support the Boone Center. Elizabeth Plumleigh is also a member of the institute’s advisory board. “We’re hoping [the Boone Center] will become a Camp David of the west,” Robert said.
Another Boone Center supporter and member of the institute’s advisory board, Andrew Littlefair, also was at the ceremony. A gift from him and his wife, Karen, enabled the renovation of apartment 101 into the professionally decorated, one-bedroom place now called the Littlefair Apartment.
During the ceremony, Dean Starr also recognized Alison Wrigley Rusack and Geoff Rusack. The Wrigley and Rusack families have been stalwart supporters of the Wrigley Institute and the Boone Center, and they too are showing their dedication through a naming gift for one of the cottages. Their gift builds on the vision and history of support by three generations of the Wrigley family.
In the afternoon, guests heard about some of the research and education projects carried out on the island and the exciting new cluster hire of faculty in the marine and environmental sciences. The day finished with a presentation and Q-and-A session by USC College marine scientists, including two of the new recruits, Karla Heidelberg and Sergio Sañudo-Wilhelmy, and their colleagues Jed Fuhrman and Dennis Hedgecock.