Ivan Racheff’s $2.3 million bequest to UT, the largest estate gift UT had received, was announced in early 1985. Under the terms of his will, UT received 30 percent of the estate, and the University of Illinois, his alma mater, received the remainder. UT’s portion of the funds established the Ivan Racheff Fund for the support of study and research in the fields of metals, metallurgy, and horticulture, in addition to the effects of pollution upon the environment. Of the bequest, $1 million was allocated to the Institute of Agriculture and $1 million to the College of Engineering. These funds were used in part to provide the $500,000 private support required to obtain the State’s match of $500,000 for endowed chairs in agriculture and engineering.
Racheff, an immigrant from Bulgaria, became a preeminent American industrialist and dedicated conservationist. Racheff entered the University of Illinois in 1914, studying first engineering, then chemistry, and graduating with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. After graduation, he worked as an apprentice metallurgist at the Illinois Steel Company of Chicago until he was drafted for service in World War I. Following the war, he traveled around the country working at a variety of jobs in the tradition of Edgar Allen Poe, whose writings had inspired him to come to the United States. In 1923 he returned to Chicago and established the Racheff Metallurgical Laboratory and a consulting practice. He designed his own laboratory equipment and compiled more than 70 volumes of the Racheff Metallurgical Studies.
About 1947 Racheff purchased Knoxville Iron Works (later, AmeriSteel), for which he had done consulting work during World War II, and was instrumental in rebuilding Knoxville’s iron industry. He converted the 1902–4 craftsman-style house built to serve as an office into both an office and residence. Practicing his belief that industry must coexist with the environment, he began a 25-year program of establishing a park-like garden on the grounds, featuring flowering trees and plants, fishponds, and walking paths. At his death, the house and gardens were willed to the Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs, which maintains and uses the property. His lodgings on the upper story of the house have been preserved almost as he left them, and the house itself is on the National Register of Historical Places.