Successful agricultural economist gives donation to renovate historical Cook Hall – a place of many memories
Successful agricultural economist Gary L. Seevers gives $3 million donation to renovate historical Cook Hall.
“Well if you’re going to take a picture of me, I’d better shape up,” said Gary L. Seevers, releasing several chuckles in a low, steady cadence. The Friday of Homecoming weekend, 2018, dressed in a brown suit and a yellow tie dotted with sheep, he beamed a smile in front of Cook Hall, the campus building that had become his second home as a graduate school at Michigan State during the 1960s.
Seevers, who went on to have an extremely successful career as an economist working for MSU Extension and Wall Street, and even in the White House, is extremely passionate about giving back to his alma mater. In 2000, he donated $600,000 to establish the Gary L. Seevers Scholarship fund for Honors College students. In 2004, he partnered with President Emeritus Gordon Guyer to create the Guyer-Seevers Chair in Natural Resource Conservation by providing a seed $1.25 million cash gift. In 2007, he added a $1 million charitable gift annuity and in 2010, added a $1 million charitable remainder trust to provide a future gift to both the Seevers Scholarship and the Guyer-Seevers Chair.
His latest donation—a $3 million pledge—set the renovation of Cook Hall in motion. The endeavor will provide a collaborative space for graduate students within the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics to study and work together.
Built in 1889, Cook Hall is situated on the northeast side of campus with the other five historical buildings of “Laboratory Row.” Cook Hall, the color of deep orange autumn leaves, has provided office and classroom space for generations of agricultural economists. In 1969, the building was named in honor of Albert J. Cook, one of the leading economic entomologists in the United States. He graduated in 1862 from what was then Michigan State College and returned in 1867 to lead the zoology and entomology programs. Upon completion of the renovation, the building will be renamed Cook-Seevers Hall in honor of both Spartans who have profoundly left their mark on MSU.
The renovation will build accessibility into the building’s infrastructure, especially with its addition of an elevator and accessible entrance. The first and second floors will house modern technology, desk and meeting spaces for graduate students – those students who are on the same scholastic journey as Seevers was from 1964 to 1968. Other renovations include restoration of the ceilings, walls, woodwork and period lighting to preserve the building’s historic origins.
Seevers has had a connection to MSU throughout his life. He grew up on his family’s farm, helping with their cattle and sheep, and joined 4-H at an early age. It led to his first visit to campus during 4-H Week and gave him motivation to attend MSU, confidence to take risks and a desire to excel. At MSU, he studied animal science and agricultural economics and received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees.
His first job was as a 4-H Extension agent in Lenawee County, and then as the 4-H agent for Ingham County. Once he finished his doctorate, he began a new chapter that would lead him far away from his alma mater – Seevers joined the faculty of Oregon State University. Then in 1973, President Richard Nixon appointed him to the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and in 1975, President Gerald Ford appointed him to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Seevers later joined Goldman Sachs in New York and finished as a general partner.
On the tour of the building, Seevers entered through the archway and stepped into Cook Hall, still in the midst of the historical renovation. Caged lightbulbs hung from their cords and cast light beams across the great empty spaces between tools. Strong scents of fresh-cut wood and newly brushed paint mingled with a musk that can only be described as a remainder of the past.
His eyes widened as he looked around, taking in the renovations, but also what the rest of us couldn’t see – his memories.
“It looks like a new building,” he said and let out another slow and steady laugh. Construction dust frosted the first floor and his steps left tracks as he made his way through the tour.
Once in the basement, his eyes lit up. He pointed to the middle of the central, large space where his desk was when he was a graduate student.
“I used to work here. I went through all of the anxiety of doing my dissertation here,” he said affectionately.
He felt sure that seeing it renovated will make for an even better experience than the long, grueling hours of dissertation preparation.
“These will be better memories,” he laughed.
The tour ended, and Seevers smiled, “Okay, we’ll be back soon. Thanks to everybody.”
He plans to visit again and bring his children back with him once the renovations are complete in December.