The University of Nebraska’s most prestigious award, the Regents Medal, will be presented tomorrow in honor of the late Robert B. Daugherty of Omaha, the legendary irrigation pioneer and founder of Valmont Industries Inc. whose charitable foundation provided a $50 million gift last year to establish the university’s global Water for Food Institute.
Daugherty – whose lifelong commitment to developing ways to use water efficiently and effectively to feed more people contributed to a dramatic increase in agricultural productivity – died in November in his native Omaha at age 88. His family will accept the medal on his behalf.
“Thanks to Bob Daugherty’s foresight and generosity, the University of Nebraska is in a position to take a leadership role in solving a challenge that is critical both in Nebraska and around the world,” said Board of Regents Chairman Bob Whitehouse. “Through its focus on the sustainable use of water for agriculture, the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute has the potential to positively impact the quality of life for millions of people. On behalf of the Board of Regents, I want to express our deep gratitude to Bob Daugherty for the gift he has shared with the University – and the world.”
In addition to founding Valmont, the world’s most successful irrigation company where he served for more than five decades, and helping to transform production agriculture, Daugherty also was a leading figure in the Omaha and Nebraska communities throughout his career. He became a mentor to many civic and business leaders in Omaha and contributed generously to educational and other causes in which he believed. He served as director for a number of Omaha corporations and, through the creation of his namesake charitable foundation, became well-known as a philanthropist as well as an innovator and entrepreneur.
The gift from the Robert B. Daugherty Charitable Foundation to establish the Water for Food Institute, announced in April 2010, is one of the largest in NU’s history. It is one of the hallmark gifts of the Campaign for Nebraska, the University of Nebraska Foundation’s ongoing comprehensive fundraising campaign for which water for food is one of six priority academic areas. Whitehouse noted that the Board of Regents voted earlier this year to name the Water for Food Institute in Daugherty’s honor. The institute is a university-wide, interdisciplinary research, education and policy analysis center dedicated to the efficient use of the world’s freshwater resources to feed a growing global population.
Among the successes of the Daugherty Institute during its first year:
- The institute, together with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, hosted the third annual Water for Food Conference this May. The conference drew 450 participants from more than 20 countries, including international leaders in fields related to the use of water for agriculture.
- Through the institute, the university continues to build its international stature and is forging new collaborations with key partners across the globe, including leading universities and ministries in China, India and elsewhere. For example, in May, the institute signed an education partnership agreement with the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in Delft, The Netherlands – the world’s largest international postgraduate water education facility – focused on water and food security. The agreement will allow Nebraska students to study abroad and will bring students from developing nations to NU. The partners also will develop joint Master of Science degree programs in water for food as well as related courses and collaborative research projects.
- In March, NU President James B. Milliken co-hosted with M.S. Swaminathan – known as the father of the Indian “green revolution” – a water conference in Chennai, India, sponsored by the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum.
- A search for the institute’s inaugural director drew outstanding candidates from around the world and an announcement is expected soon.
“I am very pleased that the Daugherty Institute is off to such a successful start,” Milliken said. “This is a fitting way to sustain the legacy of Bob Daugherty, who dedicated his career to improving agricultural productivity to help feed the world.”
Milliken added, “Bob Daugherty was a true pioneer and visionary who saw that the University of Nebraska was in the right place at the right time to become a global leader in the use of water for agriculture. We will do all we can to fulfill his vision of creating an institute where the world’s best minds come together to find solutions that will improve the quality of life for people around the world.”
The Regents Medal was established by the Board of Regents in 2006 to recognize individuals whose service to NU’s four campuses has provided “exceptional benefits in furtherance of the goals and mission of the institution.” Regents Medal winners are selected by the Board.
The first recipient was the late Charles W. Durham. In 2009, the medal was awarded to Omaha philanthropists Ruth and Bill Scott.