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A Legay to Make the World a Better Place

Bill DeCou ’68

“Cornell gave me a chance,” says Bill DeCou ’68. “My guidance counselor told me I wouldn’t get in, but the Ag School took a chance on me.” Now, he is giving back in appreciation for his education and to help Cornell make the world a better place.

In 2017 Bill established a charitable remainder unitrust at Cornell with the gift of several rental properties he owned in Missoula, Montana. When the trust terminates the proceeds will be used to establish new endowment funds in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and at Cornell Botanic Gardens.

Bill has been making annual gifts to Cornell Plantations—now Cornell Botanic Gardens—for more than 20 years, but his passion for our mission solidified after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. He was first able to verbalize his feelings on a 2004 CAU trip to Antarctica with President Emeritus Frank Rhodes. “I told him I saw Plantations as an island of serenity in a world gone mad.”

He recognizes the importance of having places on campus for students to get out in nature for their well-being, as well as the valuable resources the gardens and natural areas provide as outdoor labs for teaching and research. And, with years of experience managing his own buildings and landscape maintenance, he has a unique appreciation for our behind-the-scenes operations. So, Bill has designated the endowment that his trust will establish at the Botanic Gardens to support the ongoing maintenance of our facilities and equipment.

“Cornell was my exposure to excellence,” Bill said. In CALS, he met undergraduate and graduate students from farming communities across the U.S. and from around the world. He traces his fascination with research to the three summers he spent working with CALS professors Tom Scott and Bob Seaney on agronomy and plant breeding studies. These experiences, coupled with his own travels to developing nations, led him to recognize what he calls a “cultural disconnect” that prevents many international students from effectively using their education when they go home. “They become Americanized and used to having high tech labs and equipment,” he said. “But, when they return to their own countries, they don’t have the same resources and can’t apply those methods.”

Thus, the endowment that his trust will establish in CALS will provide support for research travel opportunities for students and faculty in plant breeding and genetics, enabling them to work on-site in the regions they aim to benefit with their efforts. “I think improving plant genetics is our best hope to feed the world,” Bill said. “Research already has made a tremendous difference in my lifetime and it offers all kinds of possibilities for increased yields in farming without other inputs.”

Bill started thinking about including a bequest in his Will for Cornell when he came back to campus for his 40th reunion, but the real impetus for him came following an illness in 2012. He decided to refocus and reduce the stress in his life, and was in the process of selling his rental properties and developing his estate plan when he met with Jason Tripp, a financial planner in Cornell’s Office of Trusts, Estates, and Gift Planning. Jason suggested that Bill could maximize the value of his remaining properties and realize an immediate charitable income-tax deduction by placing them in a charitable trust. There was no capital gains tax when the properties sold, so the full value of the assets is now providing a steady stream of retirement income for Bill and his wife and, ultimately, will realize his philanthropic goals.

In addition to the trust, Bill has included bequests in his Will that will provide additional support for the endowments at CALS and the Botanic Gardens. He feels good about his entire estate plan. “We don’t have children and our families are comfortable financially. It may sound selfish, but I’m glad my life will count for something that will make the world a better place.”

For more information about how you can create your own legacy at Cornell Botanic Gardens, click here or contact Lynn Swain at 607-255-7416 or