On February 1, 1966, Dr. David Dean assumed the duties as the first Director of the Ira C, Darling Center for Research, Teaching and Service. Three weeks later Mr. Darling sent Dr. Dean a congratulatory letter from his home in Kenilworth, Illinois, in which he expressed his fondness for the seaside farm he had recently donated to The University of Maine: “As you know I spent the best part of twenty years on the farm, and it was as near Paradise as I ever wish to be.”
Ira C. Darling was an astute businessman and successful investor who purchased the 148.6-acre property in 1939 for a mere $12,500 – it is currently valued at $25-million. Although his summers were spent in “Paradise” on the shores of the Damariscotta River estuary, he was also a practical man and a visionary. When he and his wife could no longer travel from the Chicago area to their beloved farm he donated it to the University of Maine in 1965 so they could establish an oceanography program. To help maintain and improve the property he then established the largest trust in University history in 1968. Mr. Darling’s generosity helped launch the University of Maine’s first oceanography program in 1969. Today the Center supports a broad spectrum of marine science programs through the School of Marine Sciences. Ira Darling’s legacy provided opportunities for thousands of individuals to explore marine science in the Gulf of Maine – from K-12 students and the general public, to college undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, science conference attendees, and visiting investigators from around the world.
Within days of assuming the directorship of the Center in 1991, I stood on the Center’s pier and watched an eagle circling the property for nearly 20 minutes. Soon after, I read a letter Mr. Darling wrote to Dr. Dean on June 4, 1969 that stated: “I used to say to the boys, that if in the years to come they saw a great big bird with large wings soaring around they would know that was me coming down from heaven to look the place over…” I have no idea if this was an omen but I have reason to believe that forty-five years later Mr. Darling would be pleased that his beloved farm had become near Paradise for new generations of marine scientists.
Kevin J. Eckelbarger
Professor and Director