Clarence A. “Dave” Davis Jr. ’48, whose generosity and vision have transformed the Colleges’ visual arts facilities and operations, passed away earlier this month.
Davis was born on Sept. 2, 1925 and graduated from Lafayette High School in Buffalo, N.Y. in 1943. After serving in the U.S. Navy, he enrolled at Hobart College as part of the V-12 program, earning a B.S. in chemistry and economics. He went on to receive an advanced degree in plant pathology from Cornell University in 1950 in preparation for a long and successful career as a nurseryman. Following a stint working for large nurseries in Westchester County, Davis returned to Buffalo where he opened two garden centers, which he owned and operated for more than 50 years. He donated one property to the Colleges in 2013, while continuing to manage the other, larger nursery and garden center.
Davis’ gifts to HWS have been among the most instrumental in enhancing the visual arts on campus. His funding of a significant renovation to the Colleges’ gallery space in Houghton House in 2009 led to the dedication of the space as the Clarence “Dave” Davis Jr. ’48 Gallery at Houghton House. Beyond his support for the physical renovation of the space, Davis established The Davis Endowment for Support of the Visual Arts, which enables the Colleges to host important exhibitions on campus and provide necessary funding to develop resources that complement the exhibitions and enhance their educational value.
“The visual arts are a natural and important part of our culture, and a school of the caliber of Hobart and William Smith should have a strong arts program to support a wide-ranging cultural education,” Davis said at the time of his 2009 gift. Hoping to inspire other alums to support both the endowed chair and the visual arts at HWS, he said, “My gift gets a start on things, but I can’t do it alone. The more people who are interested in the project, the sooner we’ll have something really worthwhile.”
Today, the Davis Gallery offers a space, first and foremost, to immerse Hobart and William Smith College students in visual culture by providing an environment for studying the role of art and architecture in shaping, embodying and interpreting cultures. The Gallery has six shows each year beginning with a faculty exhibition and ending the year with a student exhibition. In between, a variety of artists and architects are invited to show their work and an exhibition from the Collections of Hobart and William Smith Colleges is staged. The mission of the Gallery is to exhibit, and make accessible works of art in support of the educational goals of the Colleges and for the benefit of the community at large.
In the Buffalo area, Davis’ passionate advocacy for his community, its arts and culture, and its youth took many forms. He dedicated his time, energy and resources in support of his church, the Albright-Knox Museum, the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Buffalo Center for the Arts and local amateur athletics. Inspired by his own love of track and field, he founded the Garden Town Track Club in 1954 which continued as the Niagara Frontier Track Club until 1989. For more than 50 years, Davis was involved with the Niagara Association of Amateur Athletic Union, serving as its president from 1974 to 1976 and again from 1988 to 2013.
His activity on the local level soon took Davis to a larger role in the Amateur Athletic Union. Founded in 1888 to establish standards and uniformity in amateur sports, AAU has worked to prepare athletes for the Olympics and is focused on providing sports programs for young people of all ages. Among the “graduates” of his programs are 1976 Olympic silver medal winner Mike Shine, local running legend Mark Finucane and former University of Buffalo decathlete, Paul Amato.
Davis was recognized for his service with an AAU Life Membership Award in 1976; in 1995 he was inducted into the National AAU Hall of Fame and in 2005 was honored with the AAU Veterans Gold & Silver Awards. Among his many other national awards and recognitions are the Chevron National Community Service Award (1976) and the Don Kavadas Memorial Award for longstanding commitment to the betterment of Athletics at the National and Association level (2005). He was inducted into the National Amateur Bodybuilders Association USA Hall of Fame in 1998.
In 2015, Hobart and William Smith honored Davis with the Trustee Community Service Award in recognition of his visionary support of arts education at the Colleges.