Samuel Zemurray

In 1941, his admirable philanthropic sense prompted him to create Zamorano, an ambitious project dedicated to promoting the region’s development by means of technified agricultural education.

Tenacious and Charismatic Zamorano Founder
(1877 – 1961)

It is difficult to measure the influence and creative drive that Zemurray put into Zamorano’s creation and early history. Although this enterpreneur contributed substantial funds for the realization of this ambitious project, he always refused to give a figure of how much he had invested in the work. “True philanthropy must be anonymous,” he would say. Zemurray not only provided funds, but also his vision and desire to fill a void that existed in agricultural education in Latin America in the 40’s. His idea involved theoretical and practical education combined with an integral formation, especially aimed at young people of low economic resources. Zamorano has been an engine of development for the region, with an impact reflected in thousands of graduates who have provided significant contributions to the growth of their respective countries.

From young visionary to successful businessman
Samuel Zemurray was born on January 18, 1877 in Kishinev, Bessarabia (currently known as Moldovia) into a modest home of Jewish origin. His parents dedicated themselves to the grocery business.

Zemurray lived part of his life in the village of Shargorud, Russia, but the Blausman Zmurri family did not have the economic resources to provide Sam with comforts during his childhood, adolescence and early youth. Sam grew up working and dreaming of a different future, better than what he had known.

In 1892, at barely 15 he emigrated to the United States of America. The young Zemurray had no problems adapting to a new environment and new challenges. He had a great work ethic and a knack for business. Although Zemurray did not have the opportunity to receive a formal education, his natural talent, excellent imagination and great skill allowed him to create a banana empire in the Central America region, especially Honduras. At 28 he began creating partnerships and corporations, such as the Hubbard-Zemurray Company. In later years he would become cofounder and president of Cuyamel Fruit Co. and the majority shareholder of the United Fruit Company. As a result of the fame he achieved in the world of banana production and exports, he was known by the nickname, “Sam the Banana Man.

In 1902 he married Sara Weinberger who bore him two children, Doris and Sam Jr. His son would later die in an accident during the Second World War, which marked Zemurray’s life forever. Zemurray saw his ideas reflected in his son and had hoped Sam Jr. would take over his banana empire.

Zamorano, his most ambitious project and greatest legacy
Zemurray’s humble origins gave him a clear understanding of poverty and deprivation and an uncommon sensitivity for the needy. He felt that education was of utmost importance and considered it basic for the region to have human capital with quality agricultural training. In addition, he felt he had to give something back to the country and the region that had contributed so much to the establishment of his fortune.

Thus, in 1941, his admirable philanthropic sense prompted him to create Zamorano, an ambitious project dedicated to promoting the region’s development by means of technified agricultural education. It was a model of education that combined theoretical and practical studies, principally aimed at young people of scarce resources with a great desire to excel. Zemurray chose Dr. Wilson Popenoe, a famous agricultural explorer and scientist, to direct his ambitious project.

His daughter Doris Stone Zemurray was his closest collaborator in the realization of his dream. She was responsible for promoting the school’s growth after the first foundations were laid in 1942. Likewise, future generations of Zemurrays have inherited his philanthropic legacy.

By 1946 Zamorano was a reality, and Zemurray visited the campus that year. His last visit was in 1947 when he was very excited to visit with each student and see their progress. He poked cattle; grabbed lettuce grown by students with both hands, and in general could see how big his dream had become. When he returned to New Orleans, he happily told his friends, “What I would have given to have had the opportunity of attending a school like this in my youth.”

In 1951 Zemurray’s health began to deteriorate, preventing him from managing his as before. On November 30, 1961, Samuel Zemurray died of Parkinson’s disease at the Tuoro Hospital in New Orleans. He is buried at the Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans in a mausoleum that contains three family generations, two grandparents, a son and a granddaughter.


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