CSU gives honorary degrees to local leader in senior care, royal Hawaiian horse breeder

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Colorado State University will confer two honorary degrees on May 13 — one to
J. Robert Wilson, the president and owner of Columbine Health Systems, and one to Princess Abigail K. Kawananakoa, a celebrated breeder of racing American Quarter Horses and direct descendant of the Hawaiian royal family.

As the owner and visionary behind Columbine, Wilson got his start in 1970 as part of the construction crew building an addition to Columbine Care Center in Fort Collins. When the center went bankrupt in 1971, Wilson took over ownership, and now Columbine Health Systems operates three independent living facilities, three assisted-living facilities and five skilled-nursing facilities in Fort Collins, Loveland and Windsor.

Since 1973, Wilson has supported CSU students through field trips, service-learning activities and internships at Columbine facilities. Over the past decade, he has provided annual scholarship support to undergraduate students enrolled in the Gerontology Interdisciplinary Minor and graduate students studying various aspects related to adult development and aging. He also provides yearly programmatic funding to support the gerontology minor, housed in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. Most recently, Wilson and his wife, Kitty, pledged $5 million to establish the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging in the new CSU Health and Medical Center currently under construction. The integrated suite of offices and labs in the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging will host a variety of research programs, outreach and student educational opportunities in coordination with the College of Health and Human Sciences, the College of Natural Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Wilson will receive the honorary degree at the College of Health and Human Sciences commencement ceremony at 7:30 p.m. on Friday in Moby Arena.

Princess Abigail Kawananakoa

CSU is recognizing Princess Abigail for her dedication to global equine health and to cultural preservation in Hawaii. Throughout her life, she has directed her energy and philanthropic resources toward the preservation and perpetuation of Hawaiian language, culture and history. She has also been a lifelong devotee of horses, and as a young woman was a talented equestrian; this passion connected Princess Abigail to CSU and inspired her to promote research and teaching in equine musculoskeletal health. For about 15 years, Princess Abigail has generously supported CSU’s Orthopaedic Research Center, which investigates musculoskeletal problems and medical therapies for equine athletes. Because of similarities in the joints of horses and humans, the center’s discoveries often translate into advancements in human orthopaedic care. In 2007, she funded a CSU endowment for the study of improved non-invasive integrative and physical manipulative therapies for horses.

Princess Abigail, 90, who resides in Honolulu, will be unable to attend the May 13 Graduate School commencement ceremony where the degree will be awarded due to her advanced age and the stress of travel. Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, a University Distinguished Professor and founding director of the CSU Orthopaedic Research Center, is a longtime friend of the honoree and will accept on her behalf.

The degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, is the highest honor that CSU bestows on an individual. CSU’s news website SOURCE has more information on Wilson and Princess Abigail.