Giving Back and Living Large

Jerry Mandel

Jerry Mandel

Jerry Mandel has two pieces of advice for fellow CSULB emeriti: give back and live life in retirement to the fullest.

Mandel, who earned his bachelor’s (1962, social science) and master’s (1965, communication) degrees from CSULB, served as a faculty member for three years in the 1970s. After receiving his Ph.D. from Purdue University, he returned to campus in 1988 for a six-year stint as vice president of University Relations and Development (URD). His wife, Whitney, is a faculty emerita of journalism who retired in 2003.

“Long Beach State really made the difference in my life,” commented Mandel, who was chosen as the College of Liberal Arts’ 2001 Distinguished Alumnus. “Some people just say that, but in this case, it’s true. Having two degrees from the institution as well as having my first job as an assistant professor of speech communication and then ultimately being vice president for URD enabled me to experience CSULB at, frankly, all points of my college and professional life.”

Mandel’s CSULB training and work experience has certainly catapulted him toward impressive positions in the educational field, including serving as executive vice president at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (1983-85) and vice chancellor for University Advancement at UCI (1994-97). From 1997-06, he broadened his career outlook by accepting a position as president and CEO of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, now known as the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, in Costa Mesa.

But Mandel insists that among the most enjoyable years he has ever spent on a job were the six at CSULB, where he devoted his time to fundraising. During his tenure, he helped raise money for the construction of iconic projects such as the Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center and the Walter Pyramid.

“If you go into fundraising, you’re guaranteed to leave a footprint of some kind. You may not know it at the time, but you do,” he said. “And for our emeriti, perhaps they want to think about the footprint they leave behind. I was a first-generation college student. Some of today’s students are first generation, too, and they have the same dreams I did. I get so concerned about the budget cutbacks and how they make it harder for students to graduate. I think it’s time for all of us to try and help.

“It’s really important for people to give back,” Mandel continued. “I remember one of my very wealthy donors at the Orange County Performing Arts Center said, ‘At what point in your life did you decide not to be rich?’ And I said, ‘I am rich—not like you’re rich. What are you doing now? You’ve raised all your money. Now you’re giving it all away because you want to make a difference. Well that’s what I’ve been doing my whole career, so we’re both rich.’”

Mandel also hopes to convince his friends and fellow retirees that there is still a “lot of life left” in their golden years to pursue other interests or careers. For Mandel, he became a professional jazz musician playing the saxophone, an instrument that he played to earn money while attending CSULB and then discontinued for 35 years.

“One of my closest friends is a top neurobiologist,” he said. “I was worried about dementia and Alzheimer’s as I grew older and wanted to keep my mind active. He suggested that playing a musical instrument and taking it seriously would be one of the best things I could do to prevent dementia. So I said all right, but I didn’t do much about it.”

Mandel credits his wife with putting his dream into action. “When I told my wife I would be retiring soon, she said, ‘That’s nice, but what are you doing to do? Don’t assume that you’re going to be home all the time, and don’t assume that I’m going to entertain you.’ For my 60th birthday, she bought me a saxophone and said, ‘go play.’”

A lover of both jazz and blues, Mandel performs jazz with the Ron Kobayashi Band at Bayside Restaurant in Newport Beach on Thursday nights. Recently, he played at Steamers Jazz Club and Café in Fullerton, and the performance (among others) is available for viewing on YouTube. In September, he played with a pianist and a trio at the Ethical Culture Society in New York City and the Halle Cultural Arts Center in Apex, N.C. He also made a recording while touring in North Carolina.

“Because I’m a musician, a lot of my metaphors and thoughts come from music,” Mandel said. “There’s a great song, ‘Here’s to Life.’ The first line is, ‘No complaints and no regrets. I still believe in chasing dreams and making bets. And I believe that all you give is what you get. So give it all you got.’ And I thought, wow, that’s the way to live this stage of life!”