The first time he experienced the prestige associated with being a former Caltech student, this alumnus had not yet earned his BS. In fact, he had just dropped out.
He had enjoyed his first three years at Caltech, especially freshman chemistry, which was taught by one of his heroes, Linus Pauling. This alum lived in Dabney House and played on the water polo and swim teams. But he also held multiple jobs. He ran samples for a local physician, waited tables in the dining hall, administered third-party surveys for companies through Caltech’s Industrial Relations Center, and distributed water and ashtrays at conferences for personnel managers.
As he juggled employment and academics, his schoolwork suffered. “I didn’t have enough time to study,” he says. “I couldn’t pass the courses. I had to leave Caltech.”
His prospects were uncertain. “It was the 1958 Eisenhower recession, and there were no jobs—not even as a car salesman on commission,” he explains.
Luckily, he held in his possession a business card given to him at a conference by a supervisor from Grand Central Rocket Co. The man was impressed with his Caltech credentials and hired him as a lab technician. In a year, the alum had saved up enough money to return to Caltech. “But when I went back, I lived off campus and all my friends were gone,” he shares. “In my heart, I’m the class of ’58.”
After graduation, he worked variously as an industrial engineer, a chemist, and an all-around problem solver for everything from workplace safety to sales. But his true vocation—kindled by his Caltech experience—was to educate and inspire others. Over 35 years as an elementary and high school teacher, he developed math curricula and imbued students with critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Now, he counsels other instructors on innovative teaching approaches and pragmatic classroom management techniques.
In 2019, Torchbearer Ronald Leonard (BS ’59) and his wife, Shirley, embraced the opportunity to ensure that current and future Techers can afford and enjoy their undergraduate education without financial hardship. The couple established a scholarship fund through a charitable gift annuity that provides them with dependable income for life.
“On top of it all, instead of paying a huge tax bill on appreciated assets, we received a tax break,” he explains. Each payment from the Leonards’ gift annuity reminds them that they are helping Caltech students achieve their dreams.