Enroll at Caltech? Impossible. The young man had the intelligence and the desire, but he knew that each term at Caltech cost $100. That was beyond his means. As his graduation from San Diego High School neared in 1938, he decided on the University of California, Berkeley.
Then a visit with his aunt changed his life. She knew about Caltech and thought well of it, so she wondered why her nephew was not planning to be in Pasadena in September. When shelearned that money was the issue, she offered to support him.
He passed Caltech’s qualifying exam and soon was off to Frosh Camp. His aunt faithfully paid his tuition, room, and board throughout his education. He relished those years learning the latest mechanical engineering theories and testing them in the campus labs. In his scant free time, he volunteered for Dabney House, the Caltech Y, and the physics department.
After graduating in 1941, he soon immersed himself in the war effort, connecting with a Caltech group that was inventing a kind of airborne torpedo that helped turn the tide against Axis submarines. Then he joined the powerful Caltech–U.S. Navy rocket design program in China Lake, California, making contributions that ultimately led him to a successful career in the private sector and in leading his own company. For his achievements, he won Caltech’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
He and his wife, Delpha, have remained close to Caltech, although they now live in Nevada. Both are life members of the Caltech Associates, and “Del” served as the group’s vice president. He is a life member of the Caltech Alumni Association and has attended every class reunion except his 50th. The couple has supported a variety of campus initiatives that benefit students.
In 2016, they traveled from Reno to Caltech to celebrate his 75th reunion,and they wrote a special gift to Caltech into their will. It will double the impact of a scholarship fund they endowed in 1979. Designated for students who have special leadership abilities and who need financial aid, it already has made Caltech affordable for dozens of students. The couple has dearly enjoyed luncheons with many of them.
Through his and Del’s gift, Robert L. Noland (BS ’41) will recreate for others far into the future one of the most thrilling moments of his life: the day his aunt made a life-changing education possible for him.