Merrill College namesake Charles E. Merrill Jr. dies at age 97

Charles E. Merrill Jr. once said that funding Merrill College was “the most appealing and rewarding” of the Charles E. Merrill Trust's projects.

The philanthropist, writer, and artist Charles E. Merrill Jr., who facilitated the gift to endow Merrill College, died last week in southern Poland, where he had a home in the city of Nowy Sacz. He was 97.

Prior to the gift, which came to UC Santa Cruz through Merrill’s family foundation, Merrill College, founded in 1968, was known, simply, as College Four. The gift that made Merrill College possible came to UC Santa Cruz during the 1968–1969 academic year through Charles Merrill’s family foundation.

The year of the college’s foundation, Merrill was chairman of the Charles E. Merrill Trust, named for his father, Charles E. Merrill Sr., one of the founders of the brokerage firm Merrill Lynch. The trust donated $650,000 in partnership funds toward the construction of the fourth college.

During a 2003 visit to UC Santa Cruz, Merrill, a former headmaster of the Commonwealth School in Boston, said he supported the college because it was one of the reasons why the campus is an attractive alternative to impersonal, large “anthill style” universities.

UC Santa Cruz’s colleges were intimate places that had themes and personalities of their own, and were “not just the unit where people park their shoes,” he noted. Merrill also described Merrill College as “a force for hope, for faith. You have the sense of people believing in where they are and what they’re doing, in what is really a very cynical time.”

Merrill also said funding the college was “the most appealing and rewarding” of the trust’s projects.

Most of Merrill’s original buildings were finished in 1970, though the Crown-Merrill Apartments were added 16 years later.

Merrill College is known for its interdisciplinary focus. The college’s theme is “Cultural Identities and Global Consciousness.” Students, in their core course, take a close look at societies of the world and their efforts to preserve their cultural identities. Students also explore social change, and study nationalism, globalization, and imperialism.

A recent story in the Associated Press mentioned Merrill’s strong connections to the literary world in Poland, which was among the countries he visited during his years of extensive traveling in eastern and central Europe.

He was friends with some of Poland’s most celebrated authors, including the Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz, who died in 2004.

Poland’s government honored Merrill with the Officers’ Cross of the Order of Merit in 2002.

The Associated Press also mentioned Merrill’s devotion to education. He founded schools and worked to help underprivileged children in the U.S., Poland, and Czech Republic.