Florence and Paul Eckstein '62 Pledge $1.2 Million to Support Refugee Students

Paul and Flo Eckstein stand on the steps of Carnegie Hall at Pomona College.

Pomona College Trustee Paul Eckstein ’62, P’92, GP’26 and his wife, Florence, P’92, GP’26, have pledged $1.2 million to establish a permanently endowed scholarship fund to support refugee students. The scholarship will honor Paul’s parents Liese and Albert Eckstein, who fled political and social unrest and antisemitism in Europe prior to World War II to emigrate to the United States.

Whether they are displaced by war, political upheaval or natural disaster, the Dr. Albert Eckstein and Liese Bendheim Eckstein Scholarship at Pomona College will help students fleeing crises across the globe by providing them with the rare opportunity to continue their undergraduate education.

“Our hope is that the students who receive this scholarship in my parents’ names will use their Pomona education to make a difference in their communities and chosen fields. This is our small thumb on the scale to help them achieve the American Dream and hopefully change all sorts of lives for the better,” says Paul Eckstein.

The fund will support students with current refugee status and demonstrated financial need. It will also help students who have experienced refugee status during their lives or within their own families.

While there are a few established programs to assist refugee faculty in academia, such as Scholars at Risk, there are no comparable programs operating to assist refugee undergraduate students in the U.S. The Ecksteins’ gift will help address this need.

“We are grateful to Paul and Flo for their longstanding commitment to and support of Pomona College,” says President G. Gabrielle Starr. “This extraordinary act of generosity in honor of Paul’s parents will impact the lives of generations to come and support students how and when they need it most.”

Paul Eckstein graduated from Pomona College in 1962 and went on to Harvard Law School. Returning to Phoenix in 1965, Paul joined Brown & Bain, which was acquired by Perkins Coie in 2004. Paul is a partner with Perkins Coie in the Phoenix office, continuing his 57-year career as a trial and appellate lawyer. When asked about his proudest moment after graduating from Pomona though, Paul answers quickly, “marrying Flo.”

“At Pomona, I began to think analytically and creatively, write and speak clearly and persuasively and to appreciate how much there was to learn that I didn’t know but should know,” Paul says.

Flo and Paul agree on the importance of a college education. “The social and cultural relationships that one gains in college are life-enhancing in the moment and can really help a student on the path to a successful life,” Flo says.

About Pomona College Flo is even more emphatic, “I see how it benefitted Paul. I see how it benefitted his brother John ’64 and our son Tim, class of 1992. I see how our granddaughter Lauren, class of 2026, is benefitting from Pomona. It’s going to change her life.”

After graduating from law school, Paul and Flo started their family in Arizona. Michael was born in 1968 and Tim in 1970. Today, Michael is a practicing musician, writer and teacher. Tim is an attorney practicing law in Phoenix.

Paul’s parents, Dr. Albert Eckstein and Liese Bendheim Eckstein, settled in Phoenix in 1945. Albert was a practicing physician who had recently served with the U.S. Army as a medical officer, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. Devoted to his medical practice, to serving his community and a polyglot of sorts—Albert was fluent in seven languages. He loved and supported classical music, sang in synagogue and church choirs, and was known as a Hebraic, Judaic and Talmudic scholar.

Albert Eckstein and his extended family were also refugees in America.

Born in 1908 in what is now Romania, Albert and his family immigrated to America to escape the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. The family settled in Pittsburgh in 1926, and a year later Albert enrolled as a pre-med student at the University of Pittsburgh. Albert graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1931 and then applied to the university’s medical school—only to be turned down because the school’s Jewish quota had already been met, Paul recalls.

Knowing he would likely face a similar fate elsewhere in the United States, he applied and was accepted into the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany—a city with a large and established Jewish community. With the rise to power of Hitler in 1933, German Jews were expelled from medical schools in Germany. Albert was allowed to carry on his studies because he was an American citizen. He graduated with a medical degree in 1936.

Albert met and married Liese Lotte Bendheim while a student in Frankfurt. The couple returned to the United States and eventually settled with other members of the family in Arizona and had two sons—Paul ’62 and John ’64, a physician. Albert and Liese were married for 59 years. Liese was fluent in German, French and English, which she used to good advantage as a translator throughout her life. And when she was not correcting Albert’s German and Paul’s French, Liese managed Albert’s medical practice. Paul jokes that their family would have starved to death had Albert been in charge of the business side of the practice: “He never would have charged his patients. Liese made sure that those who could pay, did.”

Paul said his father often spoke about how the Holocaust resulted not only in the enormous loss of life but also in the destruction of so much DNA that caused him to mourn what could have been.

Albert did what he could in his own time to help his extended family and others receive an education. Both Flo and Paul know his parents would be proud this endowed scholarship carries their names.

Thinking about future recipients of this scholarship Paul says, “Who knows if they will be Nobel Prize winners, great senators, or wonderful writers or musicians? I like to dream and think this gift will in some way help facilitate that.”