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Deep and Lasting Connections

Gift: $7.5 million toward sustainable residence hall

Nearly 16 years ago, Rick and Susan ’64 Sontag received news that struck like a thunderbolt: Susan had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Everything in their life changed—including their priorities.

“We decided we wanted to spend the remainder of our time trying to give back to organizations that were deserving,” says Rick, who manages his own investment business in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

Beating all the odds, Susan is alive today. And the Sontags have followed through on their decision, using their financial resources to enrich the lives of others. The couple’s Sontag Foundation has made donations to a variety of causes, and last October they reached out to Pomona College—in a big way. Rick and Susan contributed $7.5 million toward a new residence hall on the school campus. In the residence halls, there is community, and learning takes place in a more informal environment.

Rick points out that when he told his Aunt Carol about the plans to donate money toward the building of a new residence hall, she said it was the kind of project Fred would particularly appreciate. He was a huge believer in residential campus life. The kind of professor who enjoyed spending time with students outside of the classroom, he was the advisor to Pomona’s Kappa Delta fraternity for nearly 50 years. He also served as a longtime advisor to The Claremont Colleges Rugby Team.

In fact, the new Pomona residence hall is in a fitting location, notes Rick: It will be right next to the field where Fred spent many happy hours watching the rugby team practice.

Rick himself was also someone who took full advantage of campus life. He participated in a drama group at Scripps College, went to social events at Pomona, and was one of the few Harvey Mudd men on what was then called the Pomona College Rugby Team. Most importantly, he spent time with his future wife.

It meant a great deal to Susan to give back to Pomona College, says Rick, adding that she was the driving force behind the couple’s financial gift.

“She was the one who used to bug me all the time about doing something,” he says good-naturedly. “She used to remind me, ‘Your wife graduated from here, your daughter graduated from here, your uncle teaches here. We have so many great connections.’

“I heard that for a good five-plus years. I told Susan, ‘Don’t you worry—we’re going to do something.’ And we did. In the end, it was really an easy decision. Everything just fell into place.”