Burton family invaluable to FACS

Author: Cal Powell

The heat is oppressive in Tifton, Ga., in the summer.

That’s when the Burton family would strike out on their trips.

Every summer, they’d travel west to visit their grandparents’ farm in Nebraska, or to the Smoky Mountains to live in a tent for a few days. They visited Yellowstone and San Francisco and the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Glenn and Helen Burton would pass along that same love of travel to their five children: Betsy, Bob, Tom, Joe and Richard.

This shared love of travel meshed well with one of the Burtons’ other loves in life: the pursuit of knowledge. Travel, it turns out, proved an educational experience, one that expanded the horizons of the Burton children.

“There was never any question whether we’d go on with our education,” said Bob, who spent more than 40 years as a faculty member in the UGA department of philosophy. “It was just understood.”

As a young man, Glenn worked his way to a degree in agronomy at the University of Nebraska before completing master’s and doctorate degrees from Rutgers University.

Eventually, he would settle in Tifton in 1936 as the USDA’s principal geneticist at the Coastal Plain Experiment Station and later would become one of the University of Georgia’s most decorated scientists.

Burton created “Coastal Bermuda” grass and other nutritious hybrid grasses that now cover more than 10 million acres across the world where cattle, goats and sheep graze. His grasses, such as Tifton 419, also can be found on numerous golf courses and football fields.

In the 1960s, Burton’s introduction of hybrid pearl millet seeds into India and, later, to Pakistan and Africa, helped significantly boost food production and is credited with saving millions from starving.

People holding an award <p>Robert Burton with award winner Caree Cotwright and Betsy Burton-Fowler in 2007</p>

Robert Burton with award winner Caree Cotwright and Betsy Burton-Fowler in 2007

Helen, the matriarch of the Burton family, worked as a dietitian at New York City’s Fifth Avenue Hospital prior to the move to Tifton, where she soon began volunteering in the local health department and later helped launch a Meals on Wheels program.

On the day she died in an automobile accident in 1995, Helen had been discussing establishing a fund at UGA for doctoral students in both FACS and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Out of that conversation, the Glenn and Helen Burton Feeding the Hungry Scholarship was born in 1996.

“She was an altruistic person,” Betsy said of her mother. “She cared deeply about people, wanting them to realize their full potential.”

A second fund, the Glenn Burton International Study Award, was established in 1998, reflecting the couple’s lifelong love of travel and in hopes others would be similarly inspired.

The award has helped make possible study abroad trips to places like Ghana and Australia for numerous FACS undergraduates through the years.

Laura Eckhardt, a 2015 foods and nutrition graduate who just completed a dietetic internship at Vanderbilt, participated in the FACS service-learning program in Ghana thanks in part to the Burtons’ generosity.

“The experiences I had in Ghana challenged me to grow personally and professionally, and my time there has helped shape my view of nutrition issues in America and abroad,” Eckhardt said. “Thanks to the generosity of the Burton family, I was able to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

In 2006, Betsy and her siblings established the Burton-Fowler Undergraduate Research Award in honor of their parents.

The award will be given to a FACS undergraduate student for the first time this year.

The scholarship fund serves as an expression of gratitude for all the help the Burtons had along the way in their educational and career pursuits, Betsy said.

Getting to know some of the early recipients of the first two scholarships, such as current FACS faculty member Caree Cotwright, also has been one of the many blessings to come from being invested in the university, Bob said.

“You get to a point where you realize you’re not going to be around,” Bob said, “and if you want to see that people continue the work, then you’d better support it. We’re all in this together.”

Glenn Burton

Recent FACS students who received the Glenn Burton International Study Award:

  • Ashley Kathleen Congdon, 2007
  • Ashley Louise Braid, 2010
  • Shonna Michelle Barkley, 2012
  • Kristin Raye Harper, 2012
  • Robin Olivia Johnston, 2013
  • Laura Eckhardt, 2014
  • Natalya Elise Banks Haas, 2014
  • Jessica Leigh Williamson, 2015
  • Kimberlee Vale Lovern, 2015
  • Rebekah Lee Benton, 2016
  • Liana Mosley, 2017 graduate
  • Caree Cotwright, 2007, 2008

Recent FACS doctoral students who received the Glenn and Helen Burton Feeding the Hungry Scholarship Fund:

  • Lang Shen, 2008
  • Dawn M. Brewer, 2009
  • Priyanka Chakraborty, 2010, 2011
  • Kathryn Nicole Porter Starr, 2012
  • Whitney Bignell, 2012
  • Kristi-Warren Scott, 2014, 2015
  • Muhammet Sakiroglu, 2009

Recent College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences doctoral students who received the Glenn and Helen Burton Feeding the Hungry Scholarship Fund:

  • Aaron J. Hoskins, 2011
  • Rafael Alejandro Reyno Podesta, 2012
  • Rajiv Krishna Parvatheni, 2013
  • Maria Andrea Ortega, 2013

Laura Eckhardt