MERCED, CA — Emma Moffat McLaughlin's world revolved around UC Berkeley and the things she learned there. After graduating in 1902—when a woman with a college degree was still a rarity—she became a major figure serving the university and the San Francisco community.
Now her descendants are following her example of service—and aiming at repaying the University for their family's education—with a gift to UC Merced in McLaughlin's memory. The Bay-area-based Doolittle family has donated eleven undeveloped acres on the Merced River in Snelling through the family company, La Grange Gold Dredging. The land is an unspoiled riparian area vegetated with oak and cottonwood as well as natural grasses and has been appraised at $275,000.
The beautiful riverfront parcel is an appropriate gift to honor a larger-than-life legacy. McLaughlin's list of service affiliations is staggering; she worked on behalf of the Community Chest, the State Department of Social Welfare, the San Francisco Art Commission, the League of Women Voters, the Friends of the Public Library and the Association of University Women. Eventually she received an honorary doctorate from her alma mater, and three generations of her family after her have returned to the University of California.
“The University of California seems to run in the blood of this family,” says Jeff Doolittle, a grandson to McLaughlin. “We just hope to give back a little of what we've received from the institution.”
Since the family company has done business in Merced County beginning in 1855, giving to UC Merced was a natural choice. University officials are still considering the best use for the land, which is just a few miles from the new campus in Merced.
“This property has significant potential academic value,” says Sam Traina, director of UC Merced's Sierra Nevada Research Institute. “The availability of a relatively unspoiled riparian environment within a short distance from campus offers a suitable site for field experiences as part of the undergraduate curricula, or for faculty research on water quality. It's still too early to decide on a final plan for the site, but it's safe to say the university is weighing many attractive options.”
The La Grange Gold Dredging Company is headquartered in Larkspur, California, and still does regular business in Merced County.