“David Koch is a living example of Mr. Boyden’s aspiration,” former chair of the Board of Trustees Phillip Greer said in an interview with the Scroll in 2010.
Over the summer of 2019, the Deerfield community lost an influential member of its community, Mr. David Koch. Born in Wichita, Kansas in 1940, Mr. Koch graduated from Deerfield Academy in 1958.
In 1983, he became co-owner of Koch Industries, alongside Charles Koch, and later became an executive vice-president until his retirement in 2018 due to health issues.
During his time at Deerfield, Mr. Koch was both a talented student and an athlete, serving as the captain for the track and field team, varsity basketball player, and the exchange editor for the Deerfield Scroll. His contributions to Deerfield did not stop after graduation, as Mr. Koch contributed to Deerfield through his service as a trustee and his financial support through his generous many donations.
“I was told that he didn’t miss a meeting for basically the 20 years he was on the board, until he was no longer able to attend. That’s a great task and his commitment to the school — he just wanted to be here and felt that it was important,” Head of School Dr. John Austin said when discussing Mr. Koch’s continuous dedication to the school.
Mr. Koch was given the highest honor as a trustee in 2010 when he was named a lifetime trustee.
During his interview with the Scroll in 2014, Mr. Koch said, “I feel obligated to serve on the Board of Trustees and help Deerfield in many ways because they helped me so much.”
Fellow member of the class of 1958 Brian Rosborough said, “[David Koch] had what I would call a philanthropic whimsy. I think the important aspects of his character shouldn’t be left out. He was a tremendously loyal friend, was quiet and very focused, and he was a huge patriot of the country.”
John Damgard, a close friend of Mr. Koch and a member of the class of 1957, said, “I was with David the night before he died. He was just so tough that he wouldn’t give up. He had an incredible sense of strength… He is the strongest guy I’ve ever met.”
The support from Mr. Koch’s contributions has propelled Deerfield to become the school that it is today. Mr. Koch funded ambitious projects such as the David H. Koch Natatorium in 1995, eco-friendly Koch Center in 2007, and Field House in 2018.
With Mr. Koch’s support, the Academy has been able to provide incredible academic and athletic facilities for students to excel both in the classroom, on the field, or in the pool.
Over his lifetime, Koch donated over $70 million to Deerfield Academy, helping Deerfield establish itself as a boarding school that provides state-of-the-art education.
Discussing Mr. Koch’s continuous dedication to Deerfield Academy, former Head of School Dr. Margarita Curtis said, “I think he had a very soft spot for Deerfield. He said it was the most transformative stage of his life. It was here when he was exposed to excellent teaching and experiences. He always thought that Deerfield was the place that launched him. He always called Deerfield home.”
However, Koch’s legacy is also marked with controversy, especially surrounding his stance on climate change. As Hunter Keller ‘20 said in a Scroll interview back in 2018, “David and Charles Koch have denied climate change and denounced it numerous times… At this point, in our current political era, people seem to feel like they are entitled to claim their own alternative facts… to things that are [scientifically] proven.”
Many students and people have misinterpreted Mr. Koch’s view of climate change, believing that he was a complete denier of climate change. However, Mr. Rosborough clarified by saying, “He didn’t support government investment in climate change… He was a great reader of science and cared deeply about the Earth. He also contributed to the organization ‘Earth Watch’ that funds scientific research in over 120 countries.”
Addressing this controversy, Dr. Austin said, “Regardless of where his political affiliations were, he helped fund a science center that is offering today’s students a cutting-edge education in science and many of those students are going to go on and have careers in environmental advocacy and sustainability…”Dr. Austin further said, “There’s a certain kind of beauty to that, and the school would never ever accept a gift if it were contingent any kind of programmatic requirements.”
Similarly, Dr. Curtis, whose tenure as Head of School overlapped with Mr. Koch’s involvement on the Board of Trustees, shared, “I think a lot of people worried that he would have undue influence at this school. One thing I can vouch for is that he never once intervened in any way. Whether it was about the program or hiring, facilities — nothing.”
“Unfortunately, David is no longer here to argue with us… but he was supportive of every community he [was a part of]. He was a full participant in what it means to be free and equal in America,” Mr. Rosborough said.
With the passing of Mr. Koch, his contributions to the institution have created a unique legacy that will continue to impact the Deerfield community. Members of the Deerfield community will be reminded by Mr. Koch’s dedication to this academy through the facilities inaugurated under his name.
As Dr. Austin expressed, “I would say to the students that he’s an example of someone who – thirty, forty, fifty years after Deerfield – believed so strongly in the institution that he wanted to give back to it. I hope that students, both now in the future, feel similarly. A school like Deerfield depends upon the philanthropic generosity of others.”
No matter the opinions regarding Mr. Koch’s controversial political standings, his support and dedication to the enhancement of academic and athletic facilities for Deerfield Academy’s students will forever be remembered. Mr. Koch was an instrumental member of the Deerfield community, both during his time here as a student and as a trustee, and his contributions to Deerfield will affect thousands of students to come.