Main Library rechristened the Davis Family Library; James S. Davis ’66 revealed as longtime anonymous benefactor

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Courtesy http://flickr.com/photos/daiji/57567186/

It was James S. Davis ’66 and his wife, Anne, who in 2007 kicked off Middlebury’s $500 million capital campaign with an anonymous donation of $50 million. It was the Davis family that — for the past five years running — anonymously matched every alumni pledge to the College, dollar for dollar. And it was the Davis family that supported the Main Library’s construction when the dot-com bust put the project in jeopardy.

Now, the library that Jim Davis helped build will bear his family’s name.

At an unveiling ceremony today, President of the College Ronald D. Liebowitz introduced Davis as the anonymous donor behind some of the most sweeping changes to have affected the College in recent history. Speaking at the newly named Davis Family Library, Liebowitz recognized Jim and Anne Davis, as well as their son, Chris Davis ’08, and their daughter Kassia for their longtime dedication to service and generosity to the College.

“In their own lives,” said Liebowitz, “they have consistently demonstrated the creativity, innovation, pursuit of knowledge and commitment to excellence that are at the core of a liberal arts education.”

Jim Davis '66 addresses members of the College community on May 6. // Andrew Podrygula, Photo Editor

Davis is the chairman of New Balance, the Boston-based athletic shoe company with annual revenues in excess of $1.5 billion. At the time Davis bought the company in 1972 for a $10,000 down payment, New Balance was making 30 pairs of shoes a day with six employees. Today, it operates in 13 countries around the globe and is among the five largest companies in the athletic footwear industry. But what sets New Balance apart from its competitors are the values that support the company, administration officials said in interviews Tuesday.

“He built this company in a unique way,” said Mike Schoenfeld, vice president for College Advancement. “It was all about family.”

After nearly 40 years, New Balance is still privately held.

Davis’ loyalty to family and community has consistently included Middlebury. Since graduating, Davis has donated over $70 million to the College. He has also spent 15 years as a member of the Board of Trustees, and considerable time as a behind-the-scenes advisor to Liebowitz and to President Emeritus of the College John M. McCardell, Jr.

With his $50 million starting pledge to the Middlebury Initiative, Davis helped establish a financial aid fund that slashed the loan burden for all students receiving assistance from the College.

“The first thing we did with that money,” said Schoenfeld, “was cut everybody’s loans from $4,000 a year down to either one-, two- or three thousand dollars, depending on your income.”

Through a tip from a college classmate, Davis introduced Middlebury to the Monterey Institute for International Studies (MIIS) — paving the way for an acquisition that is to become increasingly important as Old Chapel leans more heavily in the future on its satellite operations for income. The College is expected to take full ownership of MIIS this summer, when the California-based institution formally becomes “a graduate school of Middlebury College.”

The Monterey Institute offers a wide range of language and translation training programs, as well as Master’s degrees in international environmental policy and nonproliferation and terrorism studies. Davis became a member of the Board of Trustees at MIIS after the Middlebury-Monterey partnership was signed in 2005. Liebowitz and Schoenfeld credit Davis with making the agreement possible at all.

“His philanthropy has touched every single piece of Middlebury College for the last 30 years,” said Schoenfeld. “It’s unbelievable.”

Davis proved equally instrumental in the construction of the Main Library, which opened to students in July 2004 after nearly a decade of planning and building. The idea for a new library came about amid discussions over the future of nearby Starr Library — a hundred-year-old structure that, according to C.A. Johnson Professor of Art Glenn Andres, students avoided at all costs.

“Starr Library had 18 levels, and an inscrutable floor plan, and could never be made handicapped-accessible,” said Andres. “You couldn’t run technology there. You couldn’t run proper climate control through there. It was hopeless.”

A stone’s throw away, a science building stood in the Davis Library’s current position. But instead of drawing the eye to the sweeping lawns that sit beside South Main Street today, Liebowitz said, the edifice did little more than cut the College off from the town.

Calling the science building “obtrusive,” “a disaster” and likening it to the Berlin Wall, Liebowitz said the trustees ultimately voted to demolish the offending sight and construct a library in its place. Though some trustees questioned the need for a library in the digital age, Davis argued consistently and forcefully for the project as “the right thing to do” — even when the burst of the dot-com bubble at the turn of the century threatened to kill it off.

When the building finally opened its doors, Liebowitz stopped by one day on his way home from work.

“I talked to some of the language school students — I was only able to talk to the Russian students because of the language pledge — and they loved the space,” said Liebowitz. “They’d been there for 10 days, and they were there every night. It was more crowded in that library that summer than I’d ever seen.”

Nearly six years later, the Davis Library still fills up every night. Mike Roy, dean of Library and Information Services at the College, anticipates that the institutional mission of the library will only become more important as scholarship migrates to the Web.

“Much of a liberal arts education has to do with learning how to use information, evaluate information, present it in various formats and use it ethically,” said Roy. “And so we’re always thinking about what role the library can play in developing those sorts of capabilities.

“As more and more stuff becomes available digitally,” Roy added, “and people begin to prefer the digital, how do we have to change our habits in order to meet the needs of our community?”

Roy’s strategic foresight follows in the Davis family tradition. In his remarks, Liebowitz praised Davis for encouraging Middlebury to become a leader among its peers.

“He has always pushed the College to think big and to be alert to new opportunities,” said Liebowitz. “His goal has been to make Middlebury stronger by, in his words, ‘balancing the College’s traditional but unique heritage with a continuing enhancement of the Middlebury experience, as we prepare our students for leadership in a rapidly changing, more complex world.’”

For a photo gallery of the event, click here.