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February 25, 2005

Bill Lane makes a gift of $5 million to endow Stanford's Center for the Study of the North American West

By Lisa Kwiatkowski

Stanford University's Center for the Study of the North American West received an enormous boost this week when alumnus L. W. "Bill" Lane Jr., '42, made a $5 million gift to ensure the future of the program, which will now bear his name. With an additional $4 million in matching funds from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the center will use the $9 million gift to create a nationally recognized home for the scholarly study of the North American West and Pacific Rim. The gift will support faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, course development, regional conferences and undergraduate research and internship opportunities.

"Bill Lane has been a true friend of Stanford University for many years. From Lane History Corner to the boards of the Hoover Institution and Graduate School of Business, to the restoration of Stanford's Red Barn from the former Palo Alto Stock Farm, the Wallace Stegner Creative Writing Lecture series and the Stanford Mansion in Sacramento, there is hardly an aspect of the university that has not benefited from his and his brother Mel's generosity," said Stanford University President John Hennessy. "This gift reflects Bill's deep appreciation of the American West and his lifelong, strong ties to Stanford. The Bill Lane Center for the Study of the North American West will stimulate new research and teaching about the region and its influence, positioning Stanford to be an even greater leader in this academic area."

A resident of Portola Valley, Calif., Lane is the retired co-chairman of the board of Lane Publishing Co. and longtime publisher of Sunset magazine. His professional career also includes numerous government assignments, such as past presidential appointments as U.S. ambassador to Australia and ambassador at large in Japan. Founded in 1898 by the Southern Pacific Railroad and named after the Sunset Limited Train, the magazine has achieved unqualified success for more than a century, with a geographic focus on the American West. Additional Lane family ties to the West and to Stanford University can be traced to the founding of Lane Publishing Co. in 1928 by his parents. The company published Sunset magazine, a successor to the publication originally founded by the railroad company whose president, Leland Stanford, devoted much of his fortune to the creation of Stanford University.

"The whole idea of Sunset magazine and books under our family ownership," according to Lane, "was to serve Western families to enjoy the unique differences in Western lifestyle. Since 1990, Sunset has been owned by Time Warner and continues as the influential 'Magazine of Western Living.' Sunset has been a big part of that history and a part of my heritage. My wife, Jean, and I are enthusiastic about helping to found the Center for the Study of the North American West, not only because of the connection with this early history of our country but also because I can think of no better educational institution to lead this effort and to examine the critical role of this region than Stanford University. The West is a major population center; a significant global political, social and economic force; and it is our nation's face and threshold to the Pacific."

Lane's career, spanning involvement with cultural and environmental issues in the West, including his governmental service with major Pacific Rim nations, reflects the ambition and scope of the center itself, which aims to make Stanford the premier "go-to" place for serious study of the region in every dimension—historical, environmental, demographic, cultural, political, economic and technological. The center is mounting several programs of interest to undergraduate students, including new curricular offerings, research assistantships and, beginning this summer, internships at Yellowstone National Park.

"We intend to make Stanford a better regional citizen, and to make the center the place where policymakers, journalists and scholars can come together to deliberate about the region's problems and prospects," said David Kennedy, the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History at Stanford and co-director of the center. "All of us at the university are honored to have Bill Lane's name associated with this program. As publisher of Sunset magazine, a cultural organ that has arguably done more than any other to define, record and shape the identity and character of the modern West for well over a century, Bill Lane has a passion for the West, for its history and its promise. Bill loves to ride horses, has been a pilot and booked a ticket into space. I believe he is the only person named an 'Honorary Park Ranger' in both the national and California park systems. If there is such a thing as the prototypical man of the West, Bill is it."

Building on the university's strength in multidisciplinary initiatives, Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, co-founded the center with Richard White, the Margaret Byrne Professor of American History. In a forum co-hosted by the center this week, a panel of experts discussed how the West can achieve a stronger influence in political, social and cultural debates at a national level.

"I am excited about the diverse and multidisciplinary activities that will be made available through the center," said Sharon R. Long, the Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences. "It is especially appropriate for Stanford to carry forward the study of the West, and for us to do so with the broad and creative approach to scholarship that characterizes our best efforts. Thanks to the generosity of Bill Lane, which we are pleased to match with endowment from the Hewlett Foundation pledge, Stanford now enjoys a permanent base of funding to offer and expand these opportunities for future generations of students and faculty."

The Bill Lane Center for the Study of the North American West is forging important connections between the humanities and social sciences and the biological and environmental sciences on regionally salient issues. Through a series of seminars, conferences and postdoctoral fellowships, the center plans to further scholarship and address issues shaping the region, broadly defined to include the United States west of the Mississippi River, Canada west of Ontario, Northern Mexico and the Pacific Rim.

"This program at Stanford brings to mind the book Men to Match My Mountains by Irving Stone," Lane said. "The title is based on the poem by Sam Walter Foss: 'Bring me men to match my mountains, bring me men to match my plains, men with empires in their purpose, and new eras in their brains.' Stanford University represents in many ways this challenge—of vision and building new traditions and new institutions. And the West truly meets the test of this quote—the vision of what the future can hold for this great country and this extraordinary region."



Lisa Kwiatkowski, director of communications, School of Humanities and Sciences: (650) 723-3901,


David Kennedy, the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History: (650) 723-0351,

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