OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

OSU to honor museum founder with service award

06/03/1999

CORVALLIS - Donald M. Kerr, the founder and president emeritus of The High Desert Museum in Bend, will be honored by Oregon State University during its June 13 commencement ceremony as the sole recipient of the university's Distinguished Service Award.

Commencement will be held in Gill Coliseum beginning at 2 p.m. It will be televised live over Oregon Public Broadcasting.

A 1969 graduate of Oregon State, Kerr earned bachelor's degrees in journalism and biology, then pursued graduate interdisciplinary studies at OSU while working as an instructor at the Washington Park Zoo (now Oregon Zoo) in Portland.

He became chief biologist for the Oregon chapter of The Nature Conservancy, where he formed his vision for a non-profit educational endeavor in central Oregon. In 1974, after securing seed money from individuals and corporations, Kerr founded the Western Natural History Institute in Bend, which grew into The High Desert Museum.

Under Kerr's leadership, The High Desert Museum has grown into a leading educational and economic force in the region. It has been called "many museums in one," including a wildlife sanctuary, a historical museum and an art gallery. With its focus on the cultural and natural history of the Intermountain West - an area encompassing eight western states and British Columbia - the museum has helped promote understanding of the region and its natural resources.

"Don Kerr, through his hard work and high standards, was responsible for the museum's direction, growth and development as a significant part of the education of the West's cultural and economic renaissance," wrote Earle M. Chiles, president of the Chiles Foundation, in support of Kerr's award nomination.

Gwil Evans, a professor of agricultural communications at OSU, was one of Kerr's journalism professors in the 1960s.

"Don Kerr set himself apart from other students in class by his desire to succeed," Evans said. "Unlike so many of these young men and women who were just beginning to discover opportunities before them, Don displayed both passion and commitment to a vision that belied not only his age, but the age. For Don, the Oregon high desert had become a classroom, a place where the dependency of one species on another could be observed and understood, where the cycles of life displayed themselves in depth, dimension and diversity."

Kerr served as president and director of The High Desert Museum until 1995. He was responsible for the museum's philosophical direction, financial strategy, and growth. In addition to his duties with the museum, Kerr served on the State Parks and Recreation Commission from 1992-95, and was on the board of directors for both the Mid-Oregon Indian Historical Society and the 2010 Committee of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

OSU President Paul Risser said in announcing the award that Kerr deserves credit for building "one of the region's premier educational institutions."

"Don Kerr's leadership and vision have created a place where people of all ages can explore the interrelationships between humans and nature, and their impacts on the world around us," Risser said. "The Distinguished Service Award is a small measure of the pride we share in his work."