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Coin-fed foundation to promote exchanges between U.S., Iceland

By Dan Heuchert

A new University-related foundation formed to promote the advanced study of Iceland has an unusual source of financial support: commemorative coins.

Proceeds from a $10 surcharge on the sales of official U.S. and Icelandic Leif Ericson commemorative coins, formally launched in June, support the Leifur Eiriksson Foundation at the University, created this spring to finance graduate-level student exchanges between both countries. The foundation will support work in a number of fields, including Iceland's history, culture, literature, science, law, business, medicine, technology and other areas.

Thus far, more than 220,000 coins have been sold, raising approximately $2.2 million for the foundation, although that amount must be matched dollar-for-dollar by non-government sources, said Patrick Ingram, senior associate director of planned giving with the Office of Development, who is spearheading fund-raising efforts.

The foundation may make its first grants in the fall of 2001 or spring of 2002, Ingram said.

The Eiriksson Foundation also is working as a partner with the White House Millennium Commission to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the first European contact with the New World.

Archaeologists have found artifacts that indicate that a band of Norsemen, led by Eiriksson, first landed near L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland between 997 AD and 1003 AD and maintained an outpost there for about a decade. They may have used the site as a base for further exploration, and most likely established trade with some native tribes. Although the outpost was abandoned, contact may have continued for years.

Foundation officials hope that spirit of adventure will be renewed in the 21st century.

"The Leifur Eiriksson Foundation will provide significant resources that will enable generations of students to explore all of the educational opportunities that both countries hold," said Robert Kellogg, U.Va. professor emeritus of English and chair of the foundation's board of trustees. "The University of Virginia, its Health System and Graduate Arts & Sciences programs are especially excited about this endeavor, given all of the treasures the Republic of Iceland possesses in genetics, the environment and literature."

In genetics, for example, "they've done some incredible work," Kellogg said, explaining that researchers have compiled what is essentially a "genetic map" of the nation's relatively isolated and small population of around 270,000.

The University is expanding its efforts in the international arena, one of four key areas in which it hopes to improve its national standing as part of its Virginia 2020 planning initiative. The others are the fine and performing arts, science and technology and public service.

The Eiriksson Foundation is a cooperative effort of U.Va. and the Central Bank of Iceland, and is a natural outgrowth of a number of cordial and productive relationships between Iceland and the students and faculty of the University over the last 50 years, Kellogg said. Several U.Va. scholars have a direct interest in Iceland and its heritage, beginning with President John T. Casteen III, an authority in medieval literature, including Norse sagas.

Kellogg, an expert on medieval Icelandic literature, first studied in Iceland in 1956, lectured frequently at the University of Iceland in Rekjavik as a U.Va. faculty member, and this spring taught a full course load there. Marshall Brement, another board member and the Hugh S. and Winifred Cumming Memorial Professor of International Affairs at U.Va., is a well-respected former U.S. ambassador to Iceland.

The third director appointed by the University is Donald K. Fry, a former member of the English faculty and a published authority in Scandinavian literature. Two additional board members are appointed by the Central Bank of Iceland and the prime minister of Iceland. The chair will rotate every two years between the Icelandic and U.Va. representatives.

The foundation will supplement the resources from the U.S. Mint and the Republic of Iceland with support from private individuals and corporations that encourage international education.

The coins can be ordered as sets or individually over the Web at, or by calling 1-800-USA-MINT anytime, 24 hours per day, seven days a week.


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