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Billionaire Elisabeth DeLuca, widow of Subway co-founder, is making her first major public donations: ‘Few things in this world are as precious’

“We need to preserve what we can for the benefit of all of us.”

"We need to preserve what we can for the benefit of all of us."

Photo Credit: University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Elisabeth DeLuca, one of the richest women on the planet, is making her mark in the world of conservation.

Forbes reported in November that DeLuca, worth $8.2 billion, had earmarked $850 million of her fortune to fund preservation and education initiatives, among other legacy projects.

The capstone, what Forbes called “her biggest single donation so far,” was a gift of 27,000 acres in Osceola County, Florida, to the University of Florida in 2020. DeLuca, a former nurse, lives in Pompano Beach, Florida.

The land was purchased in 2005 by her late husband, Fred, a Subway co-founder, and a developer for $140 million, according to Forbes. They planned to build the United States’ first sustainable city, but it never came about — good news for local environmentalists, who thought it would destroy natural habitat in the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

The area is home to endangered species in the Florida panther, red-cockaded woodpecker, gopher tortoise (a keystone species and one of Earth’s oldest living beings), and grasshopper sparrow. It was named DeLuca Preserve and is a “living classroom and laboratory” for students and researchers at the University of Florida, Forbes reported.

The university stated in a news release that the donation was one of the largest real-estate gifts to a university in the nation.

“Few things in this world are as precious — and threatened — as our untamed lands and the wild animals that live there,” DeLuca said. “We need to preserve what we can for the benefit of all of us. These acres are in good hands with the University of Florida, and it pleases me to know that UF will use them to learn more about our natural world and to train new generations of scientists and environmentalists.”

Forbes reported that DeLuca made the donation after UF agreed the land would remain natural. It will be used to protect threatened wildlife, teach land and forest management, study water storage and conservation, and conduct student and researcher fieldwork. Other projects include determining how cattle grazing affects plants, insects, and animals.

“This donation, it’s the best conservation news the state of Florida has had in a very, very, very long time,” Julie Morris, Florida and Gulf Coast programs manager for the National Wildlife Refuge Association, said. “Its significance can’t be overstated.”

The property is protected by a conservation easement managed by Ducks Unlimited, a nearly 90-year-old organization that is the world’s largest private waterfowl and wetlands conservation outfit.

“Elisabeth DeLuca’s generous contribution of such a significant property is a gift to all Floridians and really, to people everywhere,” UF President Kent Fuchs said. “The preservation of this land and what it will enable our scholars to learn, teach and achieve will reverberate around the globe.”

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