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Former Geneva Agritech Director Donald Barton dead at 100

The Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) has announced the passing of former Cornell Agritech Director Donald Barton. He was 100.

Barton died October 7 in Canandaigua. He joined the Cornell faculty in 1951 and became the ninth director of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva – now known as Cornell AgriTech – from 1960 until his retirement in 1982. According to a CALS news release:

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“The capital projects that Don advocated for and made happen are lasting impacts of his legacy,” said Jan Nyrop, the Goichman Family Director of Cornell AgriTech. “But even more important than the physical legacy Don left behind is his legacy of leadership style and cultural perspective.”

According to a history of “The First 100 Years of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva, NY,” Barton – unlike some of his predecessors, who maintained a posture of independence from Cornell – recognized the benefits of complementing the work of the university. Nyrop said this shift in approach is among Barton’s biggest legacies.

“Honestly, were it not for the attitude and mindset that Don exemplified and we directors after him have continued to emulate, I’m not sure that Cornell AgriTech would have the support of Cornell CALS that it has now,” Nyrop said.

Barton established relationships with growers, food processors and state officials, including expanding grape and wine research and advocating for the passage of the 1976 Farm Winery Act, which brought the Finger Lakes wine industry into the modern era.

Donald Wilbur Barton was born June 12, 1921, in Fresno, California. He earned a B.S. in plant science in 1947 and Ph.D. in genetics in 1949, both from the University of California, Berkeley. His education was interrupted by World War II; he served in the U.S. Air Force from 1943-45. A bombardier on 20 missions, Barton was captured by the Germans and held prisoner for about a year after his plane was shot down. He earned the Air Medal with two clusters, the Purple Heart with two clusters and the Prisoner of War Medal. In 2019 Barton was inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame for the 54th Senate District.

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