Published : Friday, October 26, 2018 | 5:39 AM
After growing up in Hancock Park, Stephen E. Rogers attended UCLA to study economics. There he met his late wife, Janet, who was an accounting major. He likes to say that upon his graduation, the rest of his life was set up in eight days: he graduated from UCLA on a Friday, took the oath of office for the navy the following Monday, and was married that following Saturday!
During his naval career, he almost circumnavigated the globe, traveling from Virginia to the Caribbean to the North Sea to the Pacific to the Indian Ocean to the South China Seas and to the Mediterranean. Following an 11-month deployment to Vietnam, where he earned his ribbons, Rogers then changed his professional trajectory. After a short stint in banking, he enjoyed a successful 25-year career at Cal-Air, Inc., where he became part-owner and helped build the company from 200 employees with $12M revenue to 1,000 employees with $187M revenue when he retired in 2002.
In his retirement, Rogers enjoys spending time with his two daughters and their families—especially with his two granddaughters (Tiffany, age 14, and Kaitlyn, age 12) and grandsons (Jack, age seven, and Charles, age four). He is currently building a new home in Newport Beach—five blocks from where he grew up as an infant, one block from when he spent summers at his grandmother’s home as a child, and where he learned to sail at the Newport Yacht Club.
Steve and Janet joined the Associates almost 30 years ago. Both avid travelers, they participated in many Associates trips. He is also a member of the San Gabriel Country Club, serves on the Board of Overseers at The Huntington, is a member of the Newport Harbor Club, and enjoys attending UCLA football and basketball games. You’ll find him on campus every Monday at the Athenaeum for lunch, likely reading a book (that he doesn’t want you to know the title of) on his iPad.
Your family has enjoyed a long history with the Institute. How did they first get involved?
My father-in-law, William T. Gimbel, had two members of his corporate staff who were members of the Associates. They were Robert Henigson (BS ’48, MS ’49), who was Associates president in 1987, and Robert L. Zurbach, who was also president in 1983. They were always trying to get him to join. My father-in-law did eventually join the President’s Circle in the late 80s. At the same time he joined, the rest of his children were brought into the Associates. As new members, my wife, Janet, and I started attending the luncheon lectures and dinners. The family became more involved with Caltech when my father-in-law made a gift that later became the support for the building at the University of Hawaii’s Hilo campus for the submillimeter telescope on top of Mauna Kea. My father-in-law was a champion of innovative research and big ideas. Just before he passed away, he helped establish a Caltech fund to support neuroscience researchers such as Viviana Gradinaru.
What has kept you involved with Caltech and the Associates?
What kept my wife and I involved was the content of the luncheon lectures and the quality of the President’s Circle trips. Also, my wife was a member of the Associates Board for about 12 years before she passed away in 2012, and we have made some fabulous friends.
As a benefit of membership, we had access to the Athenaeum, so my wife and I would come regularly for lunch. I would enjoy sitting next to one of the large round tables where brilliant faculty members who were preeminent in their fields [were sitting] and listening in on their fascinating topics of conversation—it provided a glimpse into the exciting world of life-changing science.
Caltech has a Nobel Prize-winning history of leading at the forefront of scientific inquiry, from how atoms bond to advances in human genomics to detection of gravitational waves. Being a member of the Associates brings a person closer to those achievements. It promotes access to learning more about how science can positively affect the human condition. My family and I have been members for almost 30 years, and we continue to be impressed with and amazed by the incredible research taking place here in Pasadena.
Why did you decide to accept the position as board president?
Two reasons, really. One, my respect for the Institute, for what it has achieved and for the promise of what it can discover in the future—the undiscovered country, so to speak. And second, to honor my wife, who I always thought would make a great president of the Associates.
What would you say to someone who doesn’t know about Caltech or the Associates?
That’s easy: I would tell them to do the same thing that my wife and I did. Come to the lectures and go on the trips. Discover what Caltech is working on to make this a better world.
As the Caltech Associates’ new president, where would you like to see the organization in one year?
I would like to see a growth in the membership. To me, that means we are sharing our accomplishments with the community.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
I used to be 6’3½” tall, and now I’m only 6’1¾” tall.