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BIOGRAPHY: Ernst van Löben Sels

The Foundation was created by the will of Ernst van Löben Sels who died in Oakland in 1965. Ernst van Löben Sels was born in Oakland in 1879, the eldest child of Pieter Justus van Löben Sels, born in Holland, and Adele Virginie de Frémery van Löben Sels, whose parents were born in Holland.

Ernst studied engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and at Cornell University. In 1909 Ernst married Sarah Eleanor Slate, daughter of Frederick Slate, Professor of Physics at U.C. Berkeley, and Ella de Wolfe Slate. Ernst and Eleanor had no children. In 1917 Ernst was commissioned Captain in the U.S. Army, assigned to the Army Engineers, and served at St. Mihiel and the Argonne Forest.

After the war Ernst worked at various engineering jobs until the death of his father in 1927. He then spent eight or ten years in joint farming ventures in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta. He concluded that farming was not for him and turned to investing.

Ernst devoted his full time to his investments and managed them himself. Over time he specialized and became an astute and successful investor in railroad stocks. He became Chairman of the Bangor and Aroostock Railroad and served as Chairman of the Bangor Punta Alegre Sugar Corporation after the merger of the Bangor Railroad and Punta Alegre.

Beginning early in his investment career, Ernst found great satisfaction in personal philanthropy. He enabled many college students to complete their educations by providing financial support. Ernst's interest in philanthropy was shared by Eleanor who, for example, had a long interest in the Berkeley Day Care Nursery, an early model for helping working mothers and their children.

Ernst and Eleanor were very active in entertaining soldiers on leave in World War II, and they came to know a number of young men with whom they kept in touch. One of these young men was John M. Burnett who later became Ernst's personal attorney. Mr. Burnett organized the Foundation and, after the death of Ernst, acted as the Foundation's president for six years until his death in 1971.

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