Defining A Family’s Ongoing Legacy

Few names are as prevalent throughout the Rensselaer campus community as Darrin. It appears on buildings such as the Darrin Communications Center, on scholarships like the David M. Darrin ’40 Scholarship, in endowed faculty titles including the Margaret A. Darrin Distinguished Professor in Applied Mathematics and the David M. Darrin ’40 Senior Chair at the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, and perhaps most dear to the family’s heart, the Darrin Fresh Water Institute (DFWI) at Lake George.

David M. Darrin ’40

David M. Darrin ’40 was a dedicated and visionary supporter of students, faculty, and research at Rensselaer. He also served on the Institute Board of Trustees, was awarded an honorary doctorate in civil engineering in 1973, and received the Albert Fox Demers Medal from the Rensselaer Alumni Association. Although he passed away at the age of 65 in 1983, his wife, Margaret (Peggy), and his family continue to carry on his legacy at Rensselaer.

Darrin spent his entire career at the Automatic Switch Company, serving as senior vice president, treasurer, and member of the Board of Directors. “Automatic Switch Company has been the main part of my life and has enabled me to live a rewarding, fruitful existence, and to help people in other enterprises,” Darrin said in a past letter to the Institute.

As a result [of the Darrin’s generosity], the [Darrin Fresh Water Institute] has become one of the foremost fresh water education and research facilities in the world.

President Shirley Ann Jackson

The success of the company during Darrin’s tenure enabled him to give back to Rensselaer in a meaningful fashion. “Rensselaer gave a lot to my father. My father wasn’t one to regale in past stories, but I know that he cherished his time at Rensselaer and his studies here. He first became re-engaged with Rensselaer through his love for Lake George and the Fresh Water Institute,” says David Darrin ’89, one of Darrin’s three sons.

Water testing

Passion for Rensselaer and Lake George

It was that passion for Lake George, coupled with his fondness for Rensselaer, which drove Darrin to provide so generously for the establishment of the Fresh Water Institute, which now bears the family name. In 2003, at the opening of the DFWI Education Center, President Shirley Ann Jackson said, “David and his family loved the pristine waters of Lake George, and since 1970 he and his wife, Peggy, have supported the mission of the DFWI. All of the buildings here, and much of the Fresh Water Institute’s major equipment, have been funded through their generosity and their influence. As a result, the DFWI has become one of the foremost fresh water education and research facilities in the world.”

According to Charles Boylen, professor of biology and associate director of the DFWI, and past recipient of the David M. Darrin ’40 Counseling Award, “Darrin’s enthusiasm for the Fresh Water Institute was infectious. You couldn’t help but become excited about your own research just talking to him…The Darrins’ love for the lake continues with their children and grandchildren and DFWI is a fitting tribute to carry the Darrin name.”

A Lasting Legacy

Darrin ’89 recalls many summers spent alongside Professor Boylen. “As a child growing up spending my summers on Lake George, I would be out on the lake driving the boat and doing water sampling on behalf of the DFWI. It is a particularly exciting time for the Darrin family and for the DFWI, with the facility playing a key role in The Jefferson Project. Darrin ’89 said, “My family truly believes in what the DFWI is doing—it provides a service to the community, the RPI community, and to Lake George as well. My mother, very much to her credit, has remained heavily involved in the DFWI many years since my father’s passing. It is an important legacy established by my parents and I am honored to be involved and to remain connected to Rensselaer.”