In Praise of Restlessness

Von der Heyden assesses Duke's DNA at Founders' Day


Fallen history

Institutional honor: Von der Heyden pays tribute to James B. Duke as chemistry professor James Bonk, center, and dean of undergraduate education Stephen Nowicki look on.
Jon Gardiner


In late September, Duke honored outstanding students, faculty members, employees, and alumni at the Founders' Day Convocation, an annual tribute to the university's benefactors past and present.

Delivering the Founders' Day address, trustee emeritus Karl von der Heyden '62 praised the business acumen of James B. Duke, the university's founder. "His success in business and in life was not an accident," von der Heyden said. "The man had the drive to succeed, and he had vision." Among other initiatives, Duke introduced efficient mechanical rolling machines into the tobacco industry, pushed his product into markets worldwide, and had the foresight to diversify his business, investing in hydroelectric power after his tobacco monopoly was broken—as well as founding what would become a great research university.

"Boldness and restlessness have indeed been in the DNA of our university ever since J.B. founded it with his large gift," von der Heyden said.

At the ceremony, von der Heyden, a successful businessman himself whose many leadership roles include serving as vice chairman of PepsiCo and CEO of RJR Nabisco, was awarded the University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service, one of the university's highest awards. Von der Heyden joined the Duke board of trustees in 1995 and has served on the boards of visitors for the Duke Health System and the Fuqua School of Business. He led a major-gifts committee for Duke Libraries, and in 2000, he and his wife, Mary Ellen von der Heyden, gave Duke $4 million to help renovate and expand the university's libraries; von der Heyden Pavilion, adjacent to Perkins Library, is named in their honor.

The University Medal also was awarded to longtime chemistry professor James Bonk. Bonk, who joined the Duke faculty in 1959, has taught introductory organic chemistry to some 30,000 Duke students over more than four decades. Over the years, the class came to be known as "Bonkistry."

Other Founders' Day honorees included Wilhelmina Reuben Cooke '67, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia and winner of the Distinguished Alumni Award, and music professor Anthony Kelly '87, winner of the Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award.

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