Historic $8.6 Million Gift From A Visionary
In 1980, Dr. Ellington Beavers ’93H was about to turn 65, an age when many enter into or contemplate retirement. The company for which he had worked for 40 years, Rohm and Haas, had a policy of compulsory retirement for chemists employed as long as Dr. Beavers was. But he was by no means ready to stop.
Dr. Beavers wrote to the presidents of Beaver College, Gwynedd Mercy College, and Temple University—three institutions within commuting distance from his home in Meadowbrook—and offered to make himself available, without compensation, if his laboratory expertise could be useful in some capacity. Beaver College’s president at the time, Dr. Edward Gates, asked Dr. Beavers to meet him for lunch at The Union League of Philadelphia. Shortly after, President Gates asked Dr. Beavers to join the College’s Board of Trustees.
For more than two decades, Dr. Beavers, who died in 2015, worked with Arcadia students and Chemistry professors in Boyer Hall’s laboratories. In 1991, Dr. Beavers founded Biocoat, Inc., a global medical device coating company. Fifteen years later, when the company’s work became more than the facilities in Boyer could accommodate, Biocoat’s operations moved to Horsham, Pa.
And, nearly 40 years after that initial meeting, Arcadia University is the recipient of an $8.6 million gift, the largest single gift in the University’s history, with the December 2018 acquisition of Biocoat by 1315 Capital. The proceeds from the acquisition were realized through the University’s ownership of 16 percent of Biocoat, shares which Dr. Beavers gifted to Arcadia when the company was founded.
Then and now
Today, Biocoat’s research and development facilities are state-of-the-art. The company licenses hydrophilic coatings for devices used in a range of medical practices, including ophthalmology, cardiology, and neurovascular surgery (see “Hyaluronic Acid”).
But when Dr. Beavers first drew up post-retirement research plans, he requested Boyer Hall, room 327—an unassuming, narrow space tucked away by a staircase. At the time, he noted that most of the labs “were being used as storage space, crammed with test papers by students of earlier years, superfluous magazines and publications, and other simple trash set aside by a distinguished pack rat who shall be unnamed.”
By the fall of 1984, the year he became chair of the Board, Dr. Beavers had organized and made Boyer 327 the hub of his operations. He established a controlled “cleanroom” down the hall to prevent contamination and helped institute protocol for safely disposing chemicals—efforts that contributed to the department’s accreditation by the American Chemical Society in 1995.
Limited resources meant greater opportunities for problem-solving. And Dr. Beavers loved a challenge—particularly when it meant putting student innovation to the test. Over the 22 years Dr. Beavers spent in Boyer Hall, he and his team employed more than 60 students on a part-time basis.
Their early experiments with biomaterial coatings were met with obstacles; namely, the Boyer labs weren’t equipped to handle the quantity they hoped to test. Relying on his connections in the field, Dr. Beavers facilitated the installation of a wooden curing oven that accommodated up to 20 coated catheters in room 305. An exposure rack was built on the roof of Boyer to test ultraviolet light sensitivity. A system of pulleys and fishing lines—designed to expedite the tedious coating process—was implemented by Dr. Beavers, who dipped into his fly-fishing knowledge until an electric apparatus was installed in room 18.
Grateful for what space he had, Dr. Beavers thanked the College for opening its doors by establishing the Beaver College Research Foundation, a nonprofit subsidiary that grew into Beacon Research, Inc. He agreed to share profits from revenue-generating products with the College, provided that a portion of the funds be set aside for chemistry equipment.
In the labs, Dr. Beavers’ team expanded their research on hyaluronan coatings, developing applications for optical lenses, automobile windshields, condoms, non-fogging bathroom mirrors, surgical blades, submarines, torpedoes, stents, bandages, and fire hoses. They even discovered a method of controlling the invasive zebra mussel population by making ships too slippery to attach to.
“Pacemakers, hip implants, knee implants—Ellington realized that more than just instruments should be coated with a natural, human product,” said Dr. Chester Mikulski, professor of Chemistry and one of Beacon’s first members. “At this point, you wouldn’t want to sell the coating, but the technical know-how to medical companies.”
Biocoat’s inception on Nov. 1, 1991, was the first step toward this goal. Beacon operated concurrently until 2006, when the Food and Drug Administration pressured Biocoat to absorb all research activities and relocate to Horsham, Pa.
But despite the FDA’s stringent requirements, Dr. Beavers’ work in Boyer’s evolving laboratories led to 11 patents and numerous patent applications.
“Even toward the end of his life, he would conduct research on something he heard or read and try to find a solution to the problem,” said daughter-in-law Margaret “Peg” Beavers, who has served as executive vice president of Biocoat for the past nine years. “Today, Biocoat is looking at new approaches and opportunities to continue Ellington’s legacy.”
A gentleman and a scholar
“What am I going to do next?”
This was, by his own admission, the worst question Dr. Beavers could ask himself.
Described by colleagues as a southern gentleman, Dr. Beavers matched his mild-mannered nature with insatiable drive. At various points in his Rohm and Haas career, he served as corporate vice president, senior vice president, and group vice president and sat on the Board of Directors. Co-founder Otto Haas even charged Dr. Beavers with scouting locations for their elite research facility, appointing him director of research—a position he served in until retirement.
“Ellington demanded excellence, had a thirst for knowledge, and was passionate about helping mankind,” said Peg Beavers of her father-in-law, who grew up in Atlanta, Ga., studied Chemistry at Emory University, and completed his Ph.D. fellowship at the University of North Carolina. “He came from humble beginnings, and he always tried to support the institutions that helped him along the way.”
Dr. Beavers governed his health as methodically as he conducted scientific investigations. He eschewed foods high in fats for healthier cuisine, exercised at fitness centers regularly throughout his life, and even completed two marathons. Kathy Mackin Sweeney ’81, a Beaver College alumna who interviewed Dr. Beavers just after he was appointed chair of the Board, described the then-68-year-old’s routine: wake up at 6 a.m., jog two miles, squeeze in a gardening session, and hit the labs by working hours.
Though quiet and pensive, Dr. Beavers stood out as a leader; more often than not, his peers wasted no time in naming him such. When Dr. Beavers was introduced to the Board, fellow trustee Dr. Gregory Halpern ’73H—who later served as a Beacon Research consultant—almost immediately recognized his inquisitiveness (Dr. Beavers’ preferred after-dinner reading was, after all, organic polymer research). In those first few meetings, Dr. Halpern helped lay the groundwork for hyaluronan coatings while brainstorming contact lens alternatives with Dr. Beavers.
As a trustee, Dr. Beavers’ community involvement was second to none: from establishing a group of local leaders and industrialists to ensure Beaver College was a recognized name, to spearheading hands-on fundraising campaigns that issued a wave of scholarship on campus. Showcasing his generosity, Dr. Beavers also gave more than $218,000 to Arcadia during his lifetime, including matching gifts from Rohm and Haas. But his true verve for life was nurtured in the solitude of Boyer 327.
“He always felt that there was room for improvement,” said Lorraine Beavers, his wife of 57 years. “He was motivated by the challenge of discovery. He lived for research.”
In 2007, when asked what his goal was for Biocoat, Dr. Beavers imagined the mom-and-pop operation becoming “a major participant in world commerce, providing products and services of reliable merit, opportunity, and security.” From day one, his target was bigger than Boyer Hall. But the modest, resourceful innovator knew he could set a global enterprise in motion by listening, collaborating, and making the most of his labs in Glenside.
“He prided himself on his work in chemistry, but he was so much more than a chemist. He was an industrious person, a generous and intelligent man,” said Dr. Mikulski, adding with a smile, “and an okay golfer.”
After Dr. Beavers’ tenure as Board Chair ended in 1989, a fund was established in his name to support research initiatives led by faculty and, later, students. Aligned with his commitment to pushing boundaries across disciplines, the Ellington Beavers Fund for Intellectual Inquiry enables scholarly and creative discoveries that might otherwise remain unexplored.
As you read this, theories rooted in Dr. Beavers’ legacy are being tested, refined, and shared far beyond the third floor of Boyer Hall—beyond even Arcadia’s campus. In the Health Science labs, 2018 fund recipient Jacqueline Neminski ’19M—aided by Associate Professor and Director of Genetic Counseling Dr. Laura Conway ’99M—is designing educational resources to simplify and communicate disease-causing variants that pop up in genetic screenings, but are unrelated to a patient’s initial need for testing. By experimenting with a range of visual and text-based media, Neminski hopes to illuminate the importance of secondary findings in disease detection and to shed light on the relationship between health literacy, education, income, and age.
Across campus, Creative Writing’s Lawrence Lorraine Mullen ’19MFA is researching non-binary characters and spaces in American gothic literature. Focusing on Julia Ward Howe’s The Hermaphrodite and Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland, Mullen examines inverted gender stereotypes and cis-heteronormative literary structures alongside Professor Emeritus Dr. Richard Wertime, inviting literary theorists to consider the broader question, “How is nineteenth century fiction interpreted from a non-binary perspective?”
“Ellington appreciated how crucial it is to give students a start,” said Dr. Mikulski, who received the first Fund for Intellectual Inquiry to study metallodrugs. “He set up something that would live beyond him, but more importantly, he recognized the importance of research.”
For Dr. Beavers, “inquiry” wasn’t about fulfilling lab requirements or padding résumés; rather, he conceived of an outlet for students to tailor their collegiate experiences to their passions. In his interview with Mackin Sweeney, Dr. Beavers lauded the campus, faculty, and facilities as best-kept secrets for researchers, noting that “there is no ideal Beaver College student. There is an ideal Beaver College for [every] student.”
Dr. Beavers’ quintessential university provoked curiosity and fostered exploration. Even today, his gifts work toward that paradigm, giving budding researchers what Beaver College gave him nearly 40 years ago: a chance.
An ideal representation
While Dr. Beavers’ gift comes as something of a serendipitous gain for the University, it is emblematic of a recent rise in fundraising at Arcadia. As of February 2019, giving totals are up by nearly 10 percent over this time last year, notwithstanding the aforementioned $8.6 million. The number of pledges are up, and members of the Board of Trustees collectively pledged $600,000 at President Ajay Nair’s inauguration in October to support presidential initiatives.
The Biocoat gift will be invested in a quasi-endowment, with the interest to be used to fund initiatives established by Arcadia’s forthcoming strategic plan. The gain stands, in a way, as an ideal representation of the innovation and vision that Arcadia hopes to instill and encourage in students, faculty, and community members.
“This gift was made possible through Dr. Beavers’ bold vision of transforming space in Boyer Hall into his laboratory, through the vision of President Gates to bring Dr. Beavers onto the Board, and through the vision of the researchers at Biocoat, which have included Arcadia faculty and students,” said President Nair. “For those who had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Beavers, I can only presume that news about this gift realization is not shocking. I am learning, each day, not to be surprised by the remarkable actions, talents, and generosity of this University community.”