Establishing the Emmett Thompson Deanship in the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences depended on many generous donors, alumni and friends of the school.
But the most substantial gift toward the deanship came from the Solon and Martha Dixon Foundation, which for more than 40 years has been integral to the school’s development and growth.
Solon Dixon was a 1926 Auburn graduate and a pioneer in forestry management who aspired to promote excellence in forestry education by providing students with a hands-on laboratory to develop and practice responsible forest management.
In 1976, he and his wife, Martha, formed what is now the Solon and Martha Dixon Foundation in support of forestry education as well as the arts, health organizations and other charities.
Their generosity and dedication to the school is best exemplified by the Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center, which is not only a cornerstone to the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences educational program, but is also considered one of the finest field facilities of its type in the nation.
Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Dean Janaki Alavalapati has thanked the Solon and Martha Dixon Foundation for the many noteworthy projects it has established and supported over the years, including the Dixon Center, which he has called “a unique educational asset that allows the school to excel in preparing resource managers.”
“We are extremely grateful for all the Solon and Martha Dixon Foundation has made possible for the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences,” Alavalapati said. “With this major gift toward the Emmett Thompson Deanship, the foundation is helping to take the school to another level of greatness in which it will be positioned to become a college, in which new initiatives will bolster the current culture of excellence and lead the program to become a prominent presence in the U.S.”
In 1978, the Dixons donated an initial 80 acres in addition to funds to create the Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center. This land was later combined with another larger deed of property — at the time the largest of its kind in Auburn’s history — to create the Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center, a 5,350-acre forestry and wildlife conservation education facility located in Andalusia.
Emmett Thompson, the namesake of the new deanship, was a friend of the Dixons, sharing their passion for education in forestry. Thompson was dean of the school at the time the initial gift was established.
“I would say that during my tenure, of the things that were really important, getting the Dixon Center would be right up there,” Thompson said. “At the time, it was the largest gift ever received from a living individual. I’m convinced that there is no facility in the country for field-oriented education in forestry or natural resources that equals the Dixon Center.”
With the support of the foundation, the center has grown to include the 6,500-square-foot Solon and Martha Dixon Foundation Learning Center, which houses a state-of-theart auditorium, classroom and conference room; two large bunkhouses, five semi-private dormitory buildings, a rec center, administrative building, classroom and computer lab building, maintenance shop and cafeteria.
Solon Dixon served as president of the foundation until his death in 1986; Martha Dixon then became president of the foundation’s board of directors until 2001 and continued her involvement until her passing in 2017.
Members of the Solon and Martha Dixon Foundation Board of Directors are Doris B. Tyler, who serves as president, Phillip G. Jones, Frank “Trippy” McGuire, Louisa Mann and Rhett Johnson.
Support of the new deanship is just the latest example of the Dixon Foundation’s generosity to the school.
Through the years, the Dixon Foundation has continued its support through funding numerous initiatives and projects in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, including the funding of an endowed professorship and the naming of an executive conference room in the school’s building. At the Dixon Center, the foundation’s funds created the addition of the Solon and Martha Dixon Foundation Learning Center, renovation of the cafeteria, the replacement of the roofing of several buildings, new dorms and the purchase of private land inside the center’s perimeter to expand the facility, among many other gifts.
The center fulfilled Solon Dixon’s vision of a place where young people could experience nature through applied teaching while learning about forestry, wildlife and other aspects of natural resources management.
The Dixon Center has been an essential component of the education of Auburn forestry students — more than 1,000 students have completed the summer practicum. In 2010, a wildlife summer practicum was added to fortify the degree requirements of students majoring in wildlife ecology and management. In addition, students from other Auburn University programs have used the center’s facilities and forest for field labs and other educational opportunities.
Students from 20 other universities have visited the center, with some institutions such as Mississippi State, Iowa State University, Penn State University and Yale University returning on several occasions.
The center has also been home to in-service training for state and federal agencies, continuing education programs for natural resource professionals in both the public and private sector, groups of nature enthusiasts, and youth organizations such as 4-H and Future Farmers of America, among others.
Most recently, the Dixon Center has become host to the Wildland Firefighters Apprentice Program, or WFAP, an academy that supplies fire and aviation managers to federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs.
(Written by Jamie Anderson)