Friday, November 16, 2012

PLU regent, philanthropist Kurt Mayer dies

by Jessica Trondsen, Managing News Editor   

The Pacific Lutheran University community lost a prominent figure on Tuesday with the passing of former regent and benefactor Kurt Mayer.
   
Mayer, a Tacoma entrepreneur, was 82 years old.
   
Mayer served on the PLU Board of Regents from 1995 until 2005. He was the first person of Jewish faith to serve on the board.
  
 Jim Hushagen, vice chair of the PLU board of regents, said that “because [Mayer] came from a very different tradition, he looked at PLU with fresh eyes and saw some wonderful things in this institution. Some things that perhaps we took for granted, but from his standpoint were remarkable.”
   
Mayer came to America in 1940 as a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, on one of the last ships to leave Europe during this time. Several of his relatives died in the Holocaust.
   
Once in America, his family settled in Tacoma.
   
“Kurt was really a one of a kind individual—from a business standpoint, he really is a self-made man,” Hushagen said.
   
In 1957 Mayer founded a subsidized home-building company called Mayer Built Homes. He operated the business until 1981, at which point his son took over. The company has expanded into Idaho and Colorado.
   
“There are a lot of developers who have done quite well building mansions in the United States, but Kurt’s desire was to build affordable housing so ordinary people could experience the American dream the way he did,” Hushagen said.
   
Mayer published a memoir in 2009, written in collaboration with Oregon scholar Joe Peterson, titled “My Personal Brush with History.” Book sale proceeds go to support the PLU Holocaust Studies Program, which Mayer helped develop. The program highlights the responsibilities of the Christian church during the Holocaust.
   
In 2007, Mayer and his family contributed to the funding of a $1 million endowed professorship in Holocaust studies, which secured PLU’s place nationally with a premier Holocaust studies program. The gift was brought to the chair level of $2 million through the additional support of other donors.
   
“His support was really generous,” Hushagen said. “No doubt about it.”
   
Mayer and his wife, Pam, were members of the Eastvold Leadership Committee. Pam supported the arts at PLU with more than 20 years of volunteerism.
   
Services will be held today at 11 a.m. at Home of Peace Cemetery and will continue at Temple Beth El.