Back in Iowa, tell us a bit about the family that you grew up around.
Well, you know, the legend…and this actually has the advantage of being true, is that I had a number of ancestors that were college and university presidents. The second president of Iowa State was Seamon Asahel Knapp, who would be my great great grandfather, and he actually later went on to greater notoriety as the widely viewed as being the father of the cooperative extension service. That would be 20 years after he left Iowa State. Then I had another great grandfather, Albert B. Storms, we actually share a middle name. He’s Albert Boynton Storms and I’m Charles Boynton Knapp, and he was president of Iowa State around maybe the first decade of the 20th century, maybe 1900-1910. My grandmother was actually raised in the president’s house at Iowa State. Another relative, and this is the real skeleton in my closet that I never really admitted when I was at UGA, was my uncle Bradford Knapp, who was president of Alabama Polytechnical Institute in the 1920s.
Forerunner of Auburn University. I always tried to fuzz that up when everybody asked me about that because I didn’t know if people would interpret that correctly. But, it actually…truth is, I found out more about them after I became a college president. It was hard to escape in Ames. I mean, there were streets named after Knapp and Storms, and the arch between two buildings of the agriculture department is the Knapp Arch. Very few families have arches named after them. That’s a kind of a distinction, but that was really as a result of his work with what became the cooperative extension service.
Does it give you the personal sense that it might be in the genes?
You know, I guess it could, but I really don’t believe that. As I was saying, I really found out a lot more about the ancestors…the specifics of it. You know when you’re a young man growing up in Iowa, you’re actually…you don’t really want to talk about the fact that that street was named after your great great grandfather or your friends would ridicule you, so I kind of avoided it at Iowa State, although I remember when I was a fraternity pledge, some of the actives in the chapter found out about it and they had a good old time with that, but you know, I think what it did do and maybe this was a less direct than a kind of a DNA effect, is that the sort of reverence for higher education was very much part of the family. Both my parents and all four of my grandparents, which is more unusual, are graduates of Iowa State. So they would have been graduates in the early part of the 20th century when relatively few people went to college. So that part was in the family bloodline about understanding the value of higher education.