by Buck Institute

Thanks to the William H. Donner Foundation and family

The William H. Donner Foundation was established in 1962 to support medical research (the organization started out as the International Cancer Research Foundation) and is now governed by the third, fourth and fifth generations of the Donner family. The Foundation, which supports a wide range of philanthropic efforts, first donated to the Buck in 2015, thanks to a connection made by Ignacio resident Joe Donner III. “At that point we were turning our focus to local organizations that had a national focus. Given Buck’s research agenda and its relevance to older adults everywhere, it was a perfect fit,” he said.   The foundation has donated more than $218,000 to the Buck since 2015, but in the last couple of years the support has become more targeted.

That’s where Hunter Spencer, a fourth-generation member of the Donner family comes in and where the story gets personal. The Novato resident is one of 26 board members of the family foundation. 

Several years ago, at a local scouting event, one of Spencer’s closest friends introduced him to Mike Madias, the Buck’s Director of Facilities and Operations. As a licensed contractor and the owner of Sunbrite Construction, Spencer was always intrigued by the Buck’s building as well as its mission. So, Madias invited him to take a tour, which happened during the pandemic.

Spencer is also a long-time beekeeper.  Madias hooked him up with Nicolas Martin, a scientist in the Melov lab who is running a project designed to exploit the 80-fold difference in lifespan between queen honeybees and worker bees.  The two men became friends.  “It’s great to know an expert beekeeper who can give me advice on keeping my hives healthy,” says Spencer. “We’ve spent time together out in the field. I’ve learned a lot from him, especially when it comes to maintaining hives. Visiting Nicolas in his lab and getting the latest on his bee project was a real treat.” 

With Spencer’s encouragement, the Foundation has provided additional support for the bees and has also given a total of $40,000 to the facilities budget, an unusual gift when it comes to philanthropy. “As a contractor I’m all about maintenance,” said Spencer.  “I also know how often those budgets can get cut.”   Madias used the gift to buy a much needed Institute truck and a lift to help his staff change lightbulbs and wash windows in the Institute’s IM Pei-designed buildings. 

Soft-spoken, Spencer doesn’t like the limelight. But fortunately for Buck and for the local community he likes to get involved.  In addition to working with the Novato Police Explorer Post, Spencer chairs the San Rafael Salvation Army Advisory Board. 

“We are very grateful for the Donner Foundation’s support,” says Lisa Palma, the Buck’s Director of Philanthropy.  “We are thrilled that Spencer and Nicolas have become friends; it’s so rewarding when our donors make meaningful connections with our scientists.” If you have an interest in finding out more about our bee longevity project and how to support this and other projects at the Buck contact Palma at lpalma@buckinstitute.org


Science is showing that while chronological aging is inevitable, biological aging is malleable. There's a part of it that you can fight, and we are getting closer and closer to winning that fight.

Eric Verdin, MD, Buck Institute President and CEO

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