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.

Bruce and Mildred Thornton

Bruce and Mildred Thornton shared a lifelong interest in and commitment to the study, identification, and preservation of seeds.

Born in 1904, Mildred attended then Colorado State College. and was the first woman to graduate from Colorado State University with a Master’s degree in botany in 1928.   That year she went to work as a junior botanist at the Federal Seed Laboratory in Washington, D.C. Mildred married Bruce Thornton in 1930.  She worked intermittently at the Colorado Seed Laboratory from 1934 to 1961 and when Bruce retired in 1961, she took over the directorship of the laboratory until she retired in 1970.  During her tenure, she continued to maintain its excellence in seed research and in the training of seed analysts. Mildred received several awards for her work, including Colorado State’s Henry Award and Honor Alumna.

A Berthoud native, Bruce earned an animal husbandry degree from Colorado State in 1918 and returned to study botany and plant pathology in 1926.  Bruce served on the faculty and the Agricultural Experiment Station staff from 1927 until 1962 and headed the Colorado State Seed Laboratory from 1940 to 1961.  He was an honorary member of the Association of Official Seed Analysts, charter and honorary member of the Colorado-Wyoming Academy of Science, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Both Mildred and Bruce Thornton spent years of their lives in dedicated service to CSU and the Fort Collins community.



Emil Massa

Dr. 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 entered private practice as an orthopedic  surgeon in Denver in 1960 and retired in 1991.  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.