Caltech’s Keck Center Rededicated to Honor Former Trustee W. M. Keck Jr.

On May 12, 2017, President Thomas F. Rosenbaum hosted a luncheon and a ceremony renaming Caltech’s Keck Center to celebrate the legacy of W. M. “Bill” Keck Jr. and Caltech’s longstanding partnership with the W. M. Keck Foundation and Superior Oil Company, both founded by Keck Jr.’s father. Keck Jr. served on the Caltech Board of Trustees from 1961 until his death in 1982 and was a key member of the Investment Committee during most of his tenure on the board.

“It’s been a great partnership over the years between the Keck family and Caltech,” said Robert Day, who has been the chairman and CEO of the W. M. Keck Foundation for over 20 years and is the nephew of Keck Jr. “I’m very proud of this day; it’s a wonderful thing.”

“John Lennon rightly remarked that ‘a dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.’ This rededication of the Keck Center makes very real the continuing partnership, this continuing realized dream between the Keck family, the Keck Foundation, and Caltech,” said Thomas F. Rosenbaum, Caltech’s Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and Professor of Physics, at the event. “The man whose vision and support has allowed us to dream is Robert Day.”

“It’s been a great partnership over the years between the Keck family and Caltech.”
- Robert Day

A campus landmark, the W. M. Keck Jr. Center combines the historic Tolman/Bacher House with a modern conference facility, providing a meeting space for the Caltech Board of Trustees and other distinguished campus guests as well as a home for the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS). Established in 2008 with initial funding from the W. M. Keck Foundation and support from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), KISS was created to develop revolutionary concepts and technologies for future space missions by taking advantage of opportunities for increased collaboration between researchers on campus and at JPL. The institute has achieved exciting successes in the development of new planetary, Earth, and astrophysics space mission concepts and technology, including designing a manned mission to an asteroid in lunar orbit, planning for a mission to one of Mars’s moons, and playing a role in the Curiosity rover’s ability to determine the age of a rock on Mars for the first time.

(from left) Caltech Provost Edward Stolper, Robert Day, and Caltech President Thomas Rosenbaum at the Keck Center rededication. The black and white cutout shows previous generations of the Keck family, including W. M. Keck Jr. on the far right, at the groundbreaking for the W. M. Keck Engineering Laboratories in 1959.

The rededication of the Keck Center, originally named for W. M. Keck Sr., honors Keck Jr.’s service to the Institute. Through his personal philanthropic investments, he provided support for Caltech graduate housing in the early 1960s. Built in 1961 on Holliston Avenue, the three-story Keck Graduate House contained 53 single rooms and housed students until the 1990s. Keck Jr. also made substantial gifts to the Keck Presidential Fund, which helped advance presidential priorities, including the recruitment and retention of preeminent scholars.

The naming also recognizes Keck Jr.’s involvement as a director of the Keck Foundation in the organization’s longstanding commitment to Caltech. Established using proceeds from Superior Oil, the W. M. Keck Foundation has been a significant supporter of the Institute, with the organization’s first gift providing funds for the W. M. Keck Engineering Laboratories in 1959. Including that first gift, the foundation has supported facilities and programs ranging from the W. M. Keck Foundation Professorship in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences to the W. M. Keck Observatory on top of the Mauna Kea volcano on the island of Hawaii. The Keck Observatory has been at the cutting edge of scientific exploration for the past two decades in making major discoveries that have broadened our understanding of the universe. We now have an opportunity to expand our window on the universe using new instruments developed at Caltech and the Keck telescopes will continue to play key roles in the search for biosignatures beyond our solar system.

The lunch program on May 12 brought together Keck family members, Caltech trustees, and Institute leadership. Also in attendance were faculty members involved in KISS, such as director Tom Prince, professor of physics at Caltech, and Edward Stone, David Morrisroe Professor of Physics and vice provost for special projects.