On February 1, 1969, Dr. David Dean assumed the duties as the first Director of the Ira C, Darling Center for Research, Teaching and Service. Three weeks later Mr. Darling sent Dr. Dean a congratulatory letter from his home in Kenilworth, Illinois in which he expressed his fondness for the seaside farm he had recently donated to The University of Maine: “As you know I spent the best part of twenty years on the farm, and it was as near Paradise as I ever wish to be.”
Ira C. Darling was an astute businessman and successful investor who purchased the 148.6-acre property in 1939 for a mere $12,500 – it is currently valued at $25-million. Although his summers were spent in “Paradise” on the shores of the Damariscotta River estuary, he was also a practical man and a visionary. When he and his wife could no longer travel from the Chicago area to their beloved farm he donated it to the University of Maine in 1965 so they could establish an oceanography program. To help them maintain and improve the property he then established the largest trust in University history in 1968. Mr. Darling’s generosity helped launch the University of Maine’s first oceanography program in 1969. Today the Center supports a broad spectrum of marine science programs through the School of Marine Sciences. Ira Darling’s legacy provided opportunities for thousands of individuals to explore marine science in the Gulf of Maine – from K-12 students and the general public, to college undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, science conference attendees, and visiting investigators from around the world.
Within days of assuming the directorship of the Center in 1991, I stood on the Center’s pier and watched an eagle circling the property for nearly 20 minutes. Soon after, I read a letter Mr. Darling wrote to Dr. Dean on June 4, 1969 that stated: “I used to say to the boys, that if in the years to come they saw a great big bird with large wings soaring around they would know that was me coming down from heaven to look the place over…” I have no idea if this was an omen but I have reason to believe that forty-five years later Mr. Darling would be pleased that his beloved farm had become near Paradise for new generations of marine scientists.
Kevin J. Eckelbarger
Professor and Director
On February 1, 1966, Dr. David Dean took the helm. As the first director of the Ira C. Darling Center for Research, Teaching & Service, David was responsible for securing faculty positions, establishing courses, and physically transforming a farm into a marine lab.
By 1970, resident faculty included: David Dean, Hugh DeWitt, Ken Fink, Herb Hidu, Mike Mazurkiewicz, Bernie McAlice, and Detmar Schnitker. Keith Leeman, caretaker of the Darling property stayed on with the University and proved invaluable during the transition. Early renovations included Horse Barn where the old stalls became offices, the hayloft a conference room, and the basement laboratories.
In 1971 funding was secured from the Kresge Foundation for a new classroom. The Flowing Seawater Laboratory was built at the waterfront the same year and quickly became the hub oyster aquaculture research under Herb’s auspices. A team of researchers worked on the Maine Yankee Project, monitoring the effect of the nuclear power plant’s thermal effluent.
During the remainder of the 70’s the Center continued to expand. George Willett conveyed his property on McGuire Point to UMaine, Vernon Westcott supplied the Center with a scanning electron microscope, and Larry Mayer and Les Watling joined the faculty. Research efforts included Bernie’s thorough study of the Damariscotta River estuary.
Dr. Les Watling was appointed Director of the Center in 1985. At that time, the year round population at the lab included 9 faculty, 20 graduate students, 6 technicians, and 12 staff. Bob Steneck is hired in 1986. With funding and support from the Gulf of Maine Foundation, Les oversaw the expansion of the Flowing Seawater Laboratory.
In 1991, Dr. Kevin Eckelbarger took charge and the following two decades brought much change to the DMC property. With funding from the National Science Foundation’s Marine Lab and Field Station program, the DMC facilities grew to include: two more classrooms, a dive building, a vessel operations building, a dormitory/dining hall, a coastal research vessel, a second seawater laboratory, a library expansion, and updated laboratory instrumentation and oceanographic sampling gear.
During this time many of the original DMC faculty and staff retired and new faculty were hired including Pete Jumars, Mary Jane Perry, Annette deCharon, Rick Wahle, Rhian Waller, Damian Brady, and Lewis Incze.
The number of academic offerings for UMaine students at the DMC increased over the last two decades. In 1993, the Semester By the Sea was established, initiating a new tradition of undergraduate teaching at the DMC. UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences was formed in 1996 and now offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in marine biology, oceanography and marine policy.
Today the DMC property encompasses 170 acres and has 25 buildings valued at over $25 million. The facility is widely respected in marine circles and well known an a user-friendly laboratory and field station. Annually, the Center welcomes over 2200 visitors — students, researchers, course participants and conference goers.