The University of the Virgin Islands celebrated a land donation of 65 acres in St. Thomas’ Estate Sorgenfri from descendants of Rankin Orr and Elizabeth Millin on Tuesday. While the donation process is not yet complete, the campus reception and on-site tour of the Sorgenfri property celebrate what will be the conclusion of a gift almost 50 years in the making.
Interim Vice President for Institutional Advancement Mitchell Neaves opened Tuesday’s reception, followed by biology professor Paul Jobsis, UVI President David Hall and a passionate Leal Van Beverhoudt, one of Orr’s descendants who still live on the property.
The sizeable property equals one half the size of UVI’s St. Croix campus and one-sixth the St. Thomas campus, Hall reminded attendees. The university’s president focused on the meaning of this land gift not just to UVI, but to the territory and family as well.
He said UVI is working to find "creative ways in which this property can be used to enhance the university and these Virgin Islands." One of the most immediate benefits of the gift, mentioned both by Hall and Jobsis, will be the new opportunities for research by students in the Marine Science and Environmental Studies programs. These students are already "engaged in cutting-edge research," Hall said, adding that this donation will allow UVI to expand the programs further.
Jobsis highlighted the importance of the location of the gifted land, which includes Hendrik Bay. In addition to his role as associate professor, Jobsis is also director of the master’s program in Marine and Environmental Sciences and acting director of the Center for Marine & Environmental Studies.
He said this gift would create greater access to the Atlantic Ocean for students in all relevant programs. Currently students are limited to the southern – therefore Caribbean Sea – side of the island. According to Jobsis, two marine science graduate students have already been doing site research thanks to special permission by the Van Beverhoudt family.
Moriah Sevier moved to St. Thomas from California for the master’s program at UVI and has been studying the coral in Hendrik Bay. After some research, Sevier learned who owned the property and approached the Van Beverhoudts about accessing the bay. "And they gave me a key to the gate," she said.
Land access to Hendrik Bay is part of the land gift. Sevier said the sea fans and tongue-in-groove coral in the bay provide excellent observation opportunities, even compared to other sites around the island.
Kayla Tennant is also in the master’s program and is studying the variations of animals in the microhabitats within the gut on the property.
Van Beverhoudt expressed his joy at being a part of the final steps of the donation, as well as his hope that the land be used to further both UVI and the territory overall. “This land is for the people of the V.I.," he said.
Van Beverhoudt gave a brief history of his family and the land, including a reminder that Sorgenfri means "free from sorrow."
According to Van Beverhoudt, the 65-acre gift is only a part of a large parcel of the original 500-acre property purchased in 1844 by Orr, who emigrated to the then-Danish West Indies from Scotland and developed the land as a functioning plantation.
The process to donate the significant plot of land began in 1965 when Bertha C. Boschulte, who is descended from Orr, proposed the donation of some of the estate’s land to then College of the Virgin Islands. Years, lawsuits and environmental surveys passed before the family could finally see the gift through. The property was first divided in half in 1914 and later subdivided by the current generation.
The completion of the subdivision this year was essential for the gifted land to be handed over to UVI.
The donation process is now almost complete and UVI is already working to plan the use of the gifted land, according to both Neaves and Hall. A number of Orr’s descendants also attended the reception in support of the gift.