Alameda County Philanthropist’s $100,000 Gift Continues Legacy of Support for Science Education at CSUEB

  • January 21, 2016

Alameda County philanthropist Rosemary Rodd Spitzer has donated $100,000 to establish the Rosemary and Matthew Spitzer Distinguished Science Faculty Award at California State University, East Bay, continuing the couple’s longtime legacy of supporting academics at the university.

The award will be conferred annually to a Cal State East Bay College of Science faculty member who has demonstrated exceptional achievement in research and teaching.

“Contributing to education at the college level was of value to both of us,” Rosemary said. “I know the university has suffered budget cutbacks over the last several years, and I know how difficult it is to find support for worthwhile endeavors. I wanted to give the College of Science money and the flexibility to use it as they think best.”

This latest gift follows a series of significant donations of equipment and cash for scholarships by the Spitzers over the years, and it establishes their second endowment at Cal State East Bay. After her husband’s death in 2012, Rosemary endowed the Matthew Spitzer Memorial Lecture Series in Physics, which brings scholars and experts to campus to give free presentations most Fridays during the academic year.

“In all my years as dean, I have seldom seen a greater demonstration of love and natural curiosity for science than by Rosemary and Matthew Spitzer,” said Michael Leung, dean of the College of Science. “They are a true inspiration to all who are interested in the pursuit of the knowledge of science.”

Matthew and Rosemary were married 26 years. Matthew enjoyed life as a successful entrepreneur, experienced pilot, skilled sailor and accomplished pianist. He dropped out of college in the early 1950s to marry his first wife and raise a family. Over the years, he started or acquired several small electronics business ventures, including Spitzer Music, Sahlein Distributing, Leo’s Professional Audio and Spitzer Helicopter Leasing. 

Rosemary attended Rice University and the University of Houston in the early ’60s, but had to cut back on her schooling to work full-time as a secretary to put herself through school at night. She eventually graduated with a bachelor’s in psychology, and an acute appreciation of the challenges working students face.

Her early work experience gave her knowledge of the business world. As businesses began to open up non-traditional jobs to women, Rosemary pursued a management career that included positions in sales and sales management with Xerox Corp. She later ran two of Matthew’s companies, Leo’s Professional Audio and Spitzer Music, before taking the reins of his helicopter business.  

Matthew developed an early interest in science, especially physics, which he said “helped people understand the universe.” His keen interest in physics and aviation led to a lifelong friendship with Frank Martino, a physicist and former Cal State East Bay provost, whom Matthew just happened to meet at the airport more than two decades ago.     

Matthew was a multi-talented man, Rosemary said. “He wasn’t always successful; he failed sometimes. But he always kept working toward his goal.”

Rosemary is grateful to have been “successful in business at a time when there weren’t many women working in non-traditional jobs.” Recently retired after more than half a century of working, she said, “It’s great and a little strange.”

Rosemary serves on the board of the Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City, volunteers at a local animal shelter, and attends the CSUEB physics department lecture series almost every Friday. 

She wants young people to know there is more to life than work. “Whatever you do, be successful at it, but also find a balance in life. If you focus totally on being successful in business, there will be tradeoffs,” she advises. “Focus on work but also on having strong personal relationships.”

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