Campus Loses One of Its Greatest Friends and Benefactors
The Berkeley campus lost one of its greatest friends and benefactors on Sept. 20, when Walter A. Haas Jr., a graduate of the Class of '37, died after a battle with cancer. He was 79.
In directing the growth of one of the world's most successful businesses--Levi Strauss & Co.--Haas helped make "Levis" a household name.
He joined the San Francisco-based corporation in 1939 and served as its honorary chair at the time of his death. He was president and chief executive officer of the company between 1958 and 1976 and chair of the board from 1970 to 1981.
"Wally was among the greatest philanthropists that our university has ever known and was above all else, a wonderful friend," said Chancellor Tien. "He will be remembered as a hero in an age where heroes are rare.
"From the Haas Business School to the site of the future Haas Pavilion, there are few sectors of the campus that don't owe part of their existence to Wally and all of the Haases," the chancellor added. "His energy and generosity made our corner of the world a kinder and more liveable place."
Earlier this year, Haas and his wife, Evelyn, pledged $10 million toward a new student athletic and activity center, including an expanded 12,000-seat basketball arena.
The new facility, to be named the Walter A. Haas Jr. Pavilion, will raise the profile of the basketball program and provide greater recreational and office space for both athletics and the campus community.
Since his varsity days at Berkeley, where he lettered in tennis, Haas was an ardent Bear fan and lover of athletics in general. In 1980, he purchased the Oakland Athletics baseball team and revived for several years a championship dynasty in the East Bay.
His 15-year ownership of the team was to end officially in November. In explaining why he took over a shaky financial enterprise such as the A's, he was reported in newspapers as saying, "Somebody had to do it."
His generosity to Berkeley and many arts and non-profit organizations was legion. The legacy of giving is shared by the members of the Haas family, including his brother, Peter E. Haas, who graduated in 1940, and sister, Rhoda Haas Goldman, a 1946 graduate.
Altogether in 1989 they gave $23.75 million to construct a new building for the School of Business Administration. In appreciation of the gift, the largest to the university up to then, the School of Business was named in honor of another generation of the family, Walter A. Haas Sr.
The first gift to Berkeley by the extended Haas family dates to 1897, when patriarch Levi Strauss matched 28 scholarships created that year by the state Legislature. In 1942, Rosalie Meyer Stern, widow of Sigmund Stern, Class of 1879, donated $258,000 to build Stern Hall, the campus's first women's residence hall.
Among other family gifts to Berkeley are funds to endow a chair in East Asian Studies, build the Haas Clubhouse and recreation facility in Strawberry Canyon, and establish the Elise and Walter A. Haas International Award, honoring alumni from countries outside the United States who have distinguished records of service to their homelands.
Reflecting on his life, Walter A. Haas Jr. once remarked to a reporter that he "was the luckiest man in the world." The Haas family has suggested that memorial gifts may be made to the Berkeley Student Athletics and Activities Center.