READING, PA (September 18, 2020) – Berks County lost an incredibly influential philanthropist this week. But he has been active behind the scenes, so you might not even know his name.
Regular readers of this space know that I think the Science Research Institute (SRI), started at Conrad Weiser High School and now expanded to Albright College, is part of a rapid transformation in our community, one that is positioning us as a center for biomedicine and innovation. Students in the program are conducting innovative research at a level far above anything we’ve been able to find at another public school in the country, and their work has been more in line with what we’d expect to find at a major research university. One of this year’s seniors was even listed as the coauthor of a paper in medical journal.
A lot of people deserve credit for what’s going on at Conrad Weiser, but nobody more so than Missouri businessman Thomas Edwin “Ted” Day. Ted was the Owner and Chairman of MoSci Corporation in Rolla, Missouri. MoSci, and Ted, were considered world leaders in the glass industry. Ted, along with his wife Kim, were highly regarded philanthropists and civic leaders in Rolla.
Ted Day visits the Conrad Weiser Science Research Institute in 2016. This photo is courtesy of the Reading Eagle, which covered Ted’s visit here. For more photos of Ted and Science Research Institute students and staff, see below.
So, how did Ted Day, raised in Missouri with no apparent ties to Robesonia, Pennsylvania, come to be a driving force behind transforming science education in a small rural school district and potentially all across the country? Almost by accident.
A group of SRI students had learned about a new product invented by MoSci called “Bioactive Glass.” The types of glass MoSci makes are highly specialized and used in applications like automobile electronics. Bioactive glass is being developed to create custom wound treatments, some of which can deliver time-delayed medicine to a wound. The students were curious about how it worked, so Adelle Schade, their teacher at the time, reached out to MoSci to request a sample.
In Ted’s hilarious telling of the story, he was curious about getting a request for a sample of this highly specialized and still experimental product from a high school. So, he asked Adelle how much she wanted. Despite doing some research, Adelle couldn’t figure out how much of the glass she should ask for or how much her students needed, so she asked for “about as much as a bag of flour.” Readers should know that a bag of flour full of bioactive glass (it comes in beads) is worth about $50,000.
Ted said he wanted to visit and he flew from Rolla to tour SRI with Adelle. Ted gave SRI the “sample” they requested, which—even with a lot of student activity, will last for—in Adelle’s words “about 200 years of SRI.”
That visit was the first of many, many regular visits by Ted and Kim to Robesonia. Ted agreed to serve on the SRI advisory board. He flew SRI students out to Rolla to present their projects to his team. He provided equipment, materials and expertise. When he’d visit, his interest in the students was genuine and he would get almost giddy with excitement about some of their projects. The students eagerly looked forward to his visits. In April, we were scheduled to host some university officials for a tour of SRI and Ted planned to fly in, a trip that was cancelled by the pandemic—but his intention illustrates how devoted he was to the idea.
Ted introduced SRI to the ceramics and glass industry, leading to more contributions and connections. It was Ted’s effort and influence that drew national attention to SRI and he’s responsible for most of the support from private industry that SRI has attracted. It’s no overstatement to say that Ted Day was the accelerant that made SRI take off.
I went out to visit him in Rolla in late 2018. We spent a day together touring MoSci and talking about SRI. On that day, as on every occasion we spoke, Ted said to me: “We need to think bigger about SRI—not just Berks County… How do we make this happen in every school in our country?” If I talked about the need for an additional classroom, Ted would say: “Why not a whole building?”
While he was a big thinker with a bold vision for how ceramics and glass technology could change the world, he exuded a Midwestern humility and generosity. You would never know, by meeting him, how fabulously successful his business was. He was always more interested in what others thought, particularly if they were SRI students, than in listening to himself speak. The only reward he seemed to want was to enjoy the news that the students had won an award, earned a patent, or just thought up a new idea.
Ted died Monday morning at the age of 60. Berks County lost one of its most influential philanthropists and one of our most forward-thinking leaders. You probably never heard his name. But now you have and you know his story. The impact of his life will be felt around here for a very long time.
Kevin K. Murphy, President
Berks County Community Foundation