Lasting Gratitude

Faculty members’ estate gifts create an enduring legacy in the classroom

  Sharon Hilles

“They gave so much in so many ways when they were here. How fitting that their contributions will continue even though they are no longer with us in the same way.” says Dean Sharon Hilles.

Two former faculty members who considered Cal Poly Pomona a special place are leaving a legacy and continuing to advance the university even after their deaths earlier this year.

Walter Coombs and Ernest Cioffi, both of whom taught for many years, provided estate gifts that will benefit the university for years to come.

“Cal Poly Pomona was good to Walter, and his gift is his way of saying thank you for a lengthy experience,” says Ralph Shaffer, Coombs’ friend and a professor emeritus of history. Coombs’ gift will help programs in the College of Letters, Arts & Social Sciences.

“I think that Professor Cioffi left part of his estate to help our sociology students because he truly cared for them,” says Laurie Roades, interim associate dean of CLASS.

Although they taught in different eras — Coombs retired in 1992, two years before Cioffi arrived — they had a lot in common.

Neither was a young, junior faculty member fresh out of grad school. To the contrary,
their their life experiences enriched their contribution to the classroom. They were both professional men, well regarded in their fields of endeavor even before they come to Cal Poly Pomona.

By the time he joined the faculty in 1971, Coombs had worked for the governor of Montana, written labor provisions for the Philippine Constitution and served as the founding executive director of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. He maintained many of those contacts, and his presence elevated the stature of the campus, says John Moore, a history professor emeritus and former colleague of Coombs’.

“He sometimes brought them to campus for a visit and occasional lecture,” Moore says. “I should add that his generosity in sharing his fortunate contacts extended to many of his faculty and student colleagues, and thus made him pretty popular.”

Cioffi played baseball in college and semi- professional ball before earning a Ph.D. from Purdue University. He taught and served as an administrator at Indiana University-Purdue University, Franklin College, Mount St. Mary’s College and the University of Southern California before coming to Cal Poly Pomona as a lecturer. He also was an activist who helped found Head Start in Los Angeles and registered blacks in Tennessee to vote during the 1960s.

Like Coombs, Cioffi had global connections.

“He brought numerous international scholars to his classes and gave his students the opportunity to interact with scholars from around the world,” Roades says.

Both knew the importance of relationships in their work.

Coombs was active in the statewide faculty senate and was chair of the then- social sciences department. He made friends across departments and colleges, believing that those interdisciplinary relationships were important in forming a “real university,” Moore says.

Cioffi seemed to like everyone he met and cared deeply about students, Roades says.

“He liked to talk, had the greatest stories, and always made you feel comfortable interacting with him. He was not someone to put on airs, and he interacted equally well with faculty, students and staff. Time passed quickly when you were talking with Ernie!” Roades says.

Perhaps most important, both men took great pleasure in their time at Cal Poly Pomona.

Coombs maintained his ties with the campus community even after he retired, Shaffer says.

“In his nearly 20 years of retirement he always identified himself as ‘professor emeritus, Cal Poly Pomona,’” he says.

“On more than one occasion after we both retired, we came back to campus for the fall quarter Hot Dog Caper.”

Cioffi, who retired in 2010, had been an administrator before coming to Cal Poly Pomona and relished the chance to teach again, Roades says.

“I think that he really enjoyed being here and found his work with our students rewarding,” she says.

The College of Letters, Arts, & Social Sciences provides a diverse range of programs that help students to become well-rounded, and to develop critical thinking and complex problem-solving skills and the ability to communicate clearly and persuasively.

The campaign goals for the college include opportunities for undergraduate scholarship and research and an All-Steinway School Initiative.

Sharon Hilles, Dean
(909) 869-3500

Kristen Daley, Director of Major Gifts
(909) 869-5471