CORVALLIS - A name long prominent in Oregon history has come to the fore again with a significant bequest to Oregon State University's Department of Animal Sciences.
James H. Withycombe, general science '51, grandson of the former Oregon governor for whom the animal sciences building on the OSU campus is named, has left more than $2 million to the Department of Animal Sciences to establish an endowment in honor of his grandfather, Gov. James Withycombe, and his father, Harry Withycombe, another Oregon original.
"We haven't finalized the details yet," said Professor James Males, animal sciences department head, "but the gift will be used to establish a chair, most likely in reproductive physiology. OSU has excelled in this area since our department was created, and we think Mr. Withycombe's grandfather would have wanted to support it. Gov. Withycombe was deeply involved in high quality stock breeding."
The Withycombe family has a long and fruitful connection with OSU and Oregon agriculture.
The elder James Withycombe came to Oregon from England with his family at 17 to launch a prosperous and innovative career as a farmer and livestock breeder. He was a motivating force in the early days of the Agriculture Experiment Station of Oregon Agricultural College, as OSU was then known. After serving as state veterinarian for Oregon, he was appointed professor of agriculture at OAC and vice director of the experiment station. He soon became director, and led the station for 16 years until he was elected governor of Oregon.
Under his leadership, the Agriculture Experiment Station helped move Oregon agriculture forward in significant ways. Withycombe was a pioneer in soil conservation, and introduced new, more productive crops, and better farming techniques to farmers around the state. He criss-crossed Oregon via horse and buggy and by train, educating Oregonians everywhere he went.
Withycombe was instrumental in establishing and leading OAC's Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairy Husbandry, now known as the Department of Animal Sciences.
As governor, Withycombe guided the state through the troubled years of World War I and its aftermath until his premature death in 1919 at the start of his second term.
Harry Withycombe, the donor's father, was a top Northwest high jumper in his day, an Oregon Infantryman, rifle instructor, horse breaker, wilderness ranger, gold assayer and, finally, a small-town Montana pharmacist. He was not an OSU alumnus, but he encouraged his son to attend the university in Corvallis.
Jim Withycombe took his father's advice, and eventually parlayed his general science degree into a career in the aerospace industry.
"The Withycombe name is synonymous with leadership and excellence in animal sciences at OSU," Jim Males said. "The Withycombe chair will strengthen valuable research and teaching while honoring our first department head. We're proud of our association with the family, and truly grateful for Jim Withycombe's generosity."
Withycombe worked in quality control in the aerospace industry for many years, and was a successful real estate investor in the Los Angeles area. He passed away in the fall of 2002.
Since the first endowed chair was established in 1984, donors have created more than 40 endowed faculty positions at OSU. Endowed chairs, which aid the university in recruiting and retaining top professors, can provide perpetual funding for faculty salaries, research and equipment.