Mary Agnes Starr ’54 and Alvin McQuinn always seem to be exactly where they are needed most.
A $500,000 lead gift from the McQuinns, announced in late April 2009 at the Alumni Brunch during Reunion Weekend, boosted the ability of Columbia College to take science education to a new level. The gift, earmarked for the development of the sciences, is no fluke. The McQuinns have consistently been one of the strongest supporters of Columbia College, and of education in this country in general.
Speaking at the brunch, Mary Agnes said that the downturn in the economy has created adversity for higher education but the couple made the donation because "our country needs very much to stay in the forefront of a very, very important part of education."
Al lived on a grain and livestock farm near Independence, Mo., until he left for the University of Missouri, where he earned a bachelor of science in agricultural economics and met Mary Agnes, then attending Christian College. They both graduated in 1954.
After Al served as an officer and pilot in the U.S. Army, the couple moved to Minnesota, where Al worked for nearly five years as a fertilizer salesman. He founded Ag-Chem Equipment Co., Inc. in 1963. In 2001, he sold the firm to AGCO Corporation. He is now chair and CEO of QuinStar Investment Partners, LLC.
He credits Mary Agnes with being instrumental to the success of the companies, as evinced by the firm's name, a combination of his surname and her maiden name
Ag-Chem began as a distributor of specialized spray equipment for the agricultural industry. The firm soon entered the manufacturing arena and began producing broadcast spray boom equipment for row-crop chemical applications. Ag-Chem would go on to revolutionize the industry with such innovations as self-propelled applicators with high-flotation tires, and machines with fully integrated agricultural data management systems that enabled farmers to prescriptively apply fertilizers and farm chemicals responding to varying field conditions as the machines moved over the field. These innovations provided the farmer with vastly improved economic and agronomic results.
To say Al has been instrumental in the agricultural revolution that has boosted American crop yield per acre to hitherto-undreamed of heights is no exaggeration. For his body of work over the decades, Al has been awarded the Ag Retailers Association's Man of the Year Award, was inducted into the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame and earned the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, among many other awards and honors.
Anywhere they are needed
It's also no exaggeration to say that support for medical research, science and education have been central to the McQuinn's lives and careers: over the years, they have given to medical research at the Mayo Clinic, to numerous projects at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., where a son and a few grandchildren attended, to the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center at the University of Missouri, and of course to Columbia College.
A $300,000 challenge gift in 2003 made Columbia College's student commons a reality; the concourse in the Atkins-Holman Student Commons is named for the couple.
Mary Agnes also volunteers extensively, serving with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, as co-chair of a capital campaign for the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and on the leadership council for the Mayo Clinic.
Their magnanimity also has included a towering sculpture in the Alvin E. and Mary Agnes McQuinn Atrium of the Life Sciences Center at the University of Missouri; athletic fields and numerous other improvements to one of their grandchildren's high schools in Minneapolis; the underwriting of a Naples, Fla., Philharmonic Orchestra viola player for the season — almost anywhere they are needed, in fact. Al said the couple supports a total of about 100 different groups, charities, colleges and other institutions.
Al McQuinn's immersion in the sciences and subsequent innovations contributed to the American agricultural revolution. And, due to the couple's generosity, the seeds of the next agricultural revolution may soon be planted at Columbia College.