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students work in a biotech lab

Providing critical space for innovative work in bioengineering and chemical engineering, the Wilfred Uytengsu, Sr., Teaching Center will bring a wide network of students and faculty together when it opens in June. PHOTO: Norbert von der Groeben

Honoring an Engineer's Journey

A gift from Bonnie Uytengsu launches state-of-the-art laboratories in memory of her husband, Wilfred Uytengsu, '50. 

Summer 2014

"When you have the kind of life Fred had as a boy, you find a way to make things happen," says Bonnie Uytengsu. "If you don't, you won't survive."

Her late husband, Wilfred "Fred" Uytengsu, '50, lived through war and deprivation, but his Stanford education was a turning point that led to a remarkable career in engineering. In his memory, she has provided a gift to name the Wilfred Uytengsu, Sr., Teaching Center, a prominent space in the Shriram Center for Bioengineering & Chemical Engineering, the fourth and final building in the Science and Engineering Quad opening this summer.

Early Struggles

Born in the Philippines, Fred was a young teenager when the islands were caught up in World War II. He was separated from his family for part of the war and forced to do manual labor for the Japanese military. During this time he performed grueling tasks, pulling heavy carts and subsisting on meager rations. After contracting malaria he was released and returned home.

After the war, Fred was determined to find a better life and was encouraged by his godfather, Robert Williams, who had attended Stanford years earlier, to consider Stanford. He started to dream of coming to California and at the age of 16 was admitted to Stanford, graduating with a degree in industrial engineering three years later.

From Engineer to Entrepreneur

Soon after graduating from Stanford, Fred embarked on a career in the food industry that would span six decades. In the late 1950s, he founded General Milling Corporation, one of the first flour mills in the Philippines—a risky venture in a country where rice is a staple of the diet, the economy, and the culture. The company thrived, and Fred expanded into animal feed, poultry, and livestock.

At the U.S. Embassy in Manila one night for a business dinner, he met Bonnie, who had recently been assigned to this post. They fell in love, married, and had three children.

"Fred loved designing and building factories," Bonnie says. "But as much as he was an engineer, he was also an entrepreneur."

In the 1970s, he founded Alaska Milk, now the leading milk company in the Philippines. Over time, his business expanded to California through the acquisition of the snack food companies Granny Goose, Laura Scudder's, and Sunshine Biscuits. Throughout his career, Fred traveled between the Philippines and California and raised their younger children in Atherton, close to the Stanford campus.

"I can recall him talking to each of our children, instilling the importance of education and hard work," Bonnie says. "During his time at Stanford he realized that no matter what his family had lost during the war, a good education could provide a foundation to start over and become successful."

A Memorial Close to Home

After Fred's death four years ago at age 82, he was buried in the Philippines. Bonnie wanted to create a memorial closer to their Atherton home. "Stanford was always close to his heart," she says, and she was intrigued to hear about the university's plans for a new bioengineering and chemical engineering center.

"If Fred were here today, he would be having discussions with Stanford about how he could give back," she says. "But since he isn't, I want to honor him by helping future generations in their quest to learn and to contribute all they can."

Bonnie looks forward to visiting the space her husband's work made possible. With more than 10,000 square feet and an open layout, the new laboratories will bring a wide network of students and faculty together.

"I can sit on a bench with a sandwich and a cup of soup, watching the students go in and out," she says. "I'll know they are learning things that will change the world, and Fred's spirit will live on."