Robert B. Annis: His Scientific and Philanthropic Legacy

Donor’s Legacy Expands through CREATE AMAZING

Robert B. Annis’ fascination with radio began during his high school years. Born in 1907 in Connorsville, Ind., Annis excelled in both academic and artistic subjects from his childhood onward. While Annis was in high school, a teacher helped Annis and several other students build their own radio transmitter and receiver. Annis quickly was in intrigued by the fast-growing industry and spent much of his free time contacting other operators.

Financial difficulties forced Annis to leave Shortridge High School after only one year, but Annis retained the passion for art, science and radio that had been kindled there. Annis continued to study his newfound interests by joining the Indianapolis Radio Club and the newly founded Scientech Club. During his years as member, board member and eventually president of the Scientech Club, Annis bonded with club founder D.J. Angus, who became a close mentor and friend to the young enthusiast. Angus would later help Annis find a variety of jobs which suited his interests, including a position at the Thomas and Skinner Magnet Plant.

By the late 1920s, Annis had returned to school, attending classes in the morning and working in the afternoon. In the evenings, Annis founded his own business out of the duplex he shared with his mother; the company made and sold radio components, electrical apparatuses and complete radio systems.

Over the next several decades, the R.B. Annis Company survived first the Great Depression, then World War II, by being flexible. Annis turned to photography and cinematography to help drum up business during the Depression. During World War II, Annis and his company shifted their focus to magnetism and precision balancing instruments needed for wartime production. After the war, the R.B. Annis Company continued to have steady business working primarily in the magnetics field.

By 1996, Bob Annis’ company had made the owner a multimillionaire. Annis himself founded the R.B. Annis Educational Foundation to provide direction on how his wealth should be distributed after his death. Annis hand-picked the individuals who would serve on the board of trustees of his foundation. One of his choices was Chuck Angus, the nephew of his friend and mentor D.J. Angus.

In 1999, Annis passed away at age 92, leaving Chuck Angus and the other trustees in control of his foundation.

“I knew he was a successful businessman, but I had no knowledge of his net worth,” said Angus. “I was dumbfounded to learn that he had left about $14 million to his foundation.”

Angus and the other trustees began searching for causes in line with Annis’ interests. “Bob always wanted to encourage young people to get involved in and learn about the joys of science,” said Angus. “Bob put what he had learned to use, to involve himself in something that was very interesting and worthwhile. So many young people never find that.”

Annis’ interests went beyond science, however: he retained the interest in art and music that he also had had since childhood. With each of these puzzle pieces in place, Chuck Angus began to realize that the perfect beneficiary of the R.B. Annis Foundation was an institution he was already very familiar with: Interlochen Arts Academy.

Angus’ two daughters, Hester and Katherine, both attended Interlochen Arts Academy for all four years of their high school education. “I was driving from Spring Lake to Interlochen for eight straight years,” Angus said. “I know every bump in the road between Interlochen and Spring Lake.”

“Bob realized the connection and relationship between math and science and physics to music,” Angus said. “He would have loved nothing more than to have taught a class at Interlochen with Nadji and then go slogging through the streams around Interlochen with Mary Ellen Newport.”

The Annis Foundation’s generous support over fifteen years has provided a wide range of equipment for R.B. Annis Math and Science Division students, from hip waders and snowshoes for ecology students to microscopes for biology students.

Most recently, the R.B. Annis Educational Foundation funded the much-needed renovation of the Dow Science Rotunda. “When I got here, the Dow Rotunda was designed for 250 students,” said Mary Ellen Newport, director of the R.B. Annis Math and Science Division. “Now, we have double that number. There was no room for students or teachers; rooms two and seven were divided in half, and half of that space was storage.

The new renovation has expanded the space in each classroom. Each teacher also had the opportunity to design their own classroom: Katie Wibby designed innovative triangular tables to help each member of a chemistry lab group to participate more easily in experiments, and Taoufik Nadji designed his curtain to function as a pinhole camera.

Although the Dow Science Rotunda has officially reopened, there’s still room for improvement. Newport hopes to construct a storage area to replace that which was removed from rooms two and seven, and also to create an area where ecology and biology students can clean up after outdoor excursions.

In addition, the R.B. Annis Educational Foundation grant has provided funds for a new botanical lab, which is under construction next to the Interlochen Public Radio building. “It’s beyond generosity,” said Newport. “Chuck comes to us to ask us what we need. He always gives us ideas for new improvements and new spaces.”

According to Angus, the relationship is mutually beneficial: while Bob Annis may have focused on science, Angus recognizes the importance of the arts. “As far as our foundation is concerned, we can do both through any support to Interlochen,” Angus said.