Thornton-Massa Background

The benefactors of the Thornton-Massa Lecture Series are the family of Bruce and Mildred Thornton, and Dr. Emil Massa whose shared interest in biodiversity, improved plant genetics and related topics led them to endow an annual lecture through the College of Agricultural Science and the College of Natural Sciences.

Emil Massa

Emil Massa was a Denver physician with a long-standing interest in plants, plant breeding and biodiversity. A native of Cleveland, Dr. Massa received his undergraduate degree from Denison University in Granville, Ohio. He earned a medical degree in 1953 from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Dr. Massa was particularly influenced by Nikolai I. Vavilov’s book, “The origin, variation, immunity, and breeding of cultivated plants” and his interest in plant genetics was the basis for his support of many plant oriented institutions, including the Denver Botanic Garden, the Peoples Park program of the Denver Parks department and this lecture series.

Bruce and Mildred Thornton

Bruce and Mildred Thornton shared a lifelong interest in and commitment to the study, identification, and preservation of seeds. Mildred attended then Colorado State College and after receiving her master’s degree in Botany she went to work as a junior botanist at the Federal Seed Laboratory in Washington, D.C. Bruce served on the Colorado State College faculty and the Agricultural Experiment Station staff from 1927-1962, and he headed the Colorado State Seed Laboratory from 1940-1961.
Mildred married Bruce in 1930. When Bruce retired in 1961, Mildred took over the directorship of the State Seed Laboratory, where she had worked intermittently for 20 years.