Samuel Zemurray

Tenacious and charismatic founder of Zamorano (1877 - 1961)

In January we commemorate the birth of our founder, Samuel Zemurray (1877-1961). His admirable sense of philanthropy made him dream of an agricultural school focused on fieldwork, aimed mainly towards young people from low-income families with a strong desire to succeed. Zemurray made his dream a reality, Zamorano has changed the lives of thousands of young people in the world by offering them an outstanding, quality education.

In 1941, his admirable philanthropic sensitivity drove him to create Zamorano, an ambitious project to develop the region through technical agricultural education.

 SamuelZSamuel Zemurray was born on January 18, 1877 into a humble Jewish home in Kishinev, Bessarabia —current Republic of Moldova — where his parents dedicated themselves to the grocery business.

During Samuel’s younger years, the Zmurri Blausman family lived in the village of Shargorud, in Russia. Their modest status and lack of economic resources did not allow them to live in comfort. He grew up working and dreaming of a better future, different from what he had known.

In 1892, when he was just 15, he migrated to the United States. There, Young Zemurray’s great work ethic and business skills helped him to easily adapt to his new environment and its challenges.

Although Zemurray didn’t have the luxury of a formal education, his natural talent, active imagination, and entrepreneurial skills enabled him to establish a banana empire in Central America based in Honduras. At 28 he began creating partnerships and businesses such as the Hubbard-Zemurray Company. He co-founded the Cuyamel Fruit Co. and became head of the United Fruit Company (UFCo). He came to be its major shareholder and acquired great fame in the banana production and trade world.

In 1902, he married Sara Weinberger with whom he had two children: Doris y Sam Jr., who was killed in a tragic accident during the Second World War. This great loss left a permanent mark on Zemurray.

Zamorano: His most ambitious project and greatest legacy

Zemurray’s humble origins enabled him to have a clear understanding of poverty and its hardships. He gave paramount importance to education, considering it an essential element for developing the basic human capital that the region needed. Coupled with the desire to give back to the country and region that had contributed to his fortune, he believed that young people should have access to quality agricultural training programs that incorporated values such as hard work and ethics, self-confidence, leadership, stamina, and a spirit of self-improvement.

Thus, in 1941, his philanthropic sensitivity drove him to create Zamorano —an ambitious project aimed at developing the region through technical agricultural education. He commissioned Dr. Wilson Popenoe, a renowned American scientist, with the task of directing the educational model for his project. This extraordinarily effective method of teaching combined theoretical lessons and hands-on training.

His daughter, Doris Stone Zemurray, became his closest collaborator and was responsible for driving Zamorano’s growth since its first cornerstones were established in 1942. Many Zemurray generations inherited his philanthropic legacy and became active within Zamorano; his great granddaughter, Dr. Alison Stone, has been president of the Zamorano Board of Trustees since 2011.

By 1946, Zamorano had become a reality and Zemurray made several visits to the institution during the following couple of years. On his last visit, in 1947, he had the opportunity meet each student and witness his/her progress, see the cattle, and hold with both hands large lettuce plants harvested by the students. He witnessed how big his dream had become. Back in New Orleans, he said to his friends: “I would´ve given my right arm to attend such a school when I was young.”

In 1951, Zemurray’s health began to deteriorate. His condition no longer allowed him to direct his business like he once had. He died of Parkinson´s disease in New Orleans on November 30, 1961. Today, his body rests in the family’s mausoleum in the Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans, with his wife, son, and granddaughter.

It is difficult to measure the influence and creative impact Samuel Zemurray had in the creation and the early history of Zamorano. Though he contributed a substantial amount of funds, he never revealed how much he invested. He used to say —“True philanthropy should be anonymous”. Zemurray did not only contribute with funds, but also with his vision and drive to fill an existing void in Latin America’s agriculture education system. This is reflected by the more than 7,500 Zamorano graduates, from over twenty-nine countries in the world, who have and will continue to bring enormous contributions the the development of their own countries.

Book of Reference: El Zamorano, Meeting the Challenge of Tropical America, by Simon E. Malo.