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  • (Left) Fred BS '62 and Joyce Hameetman during the 2009 dedication of the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics, which houses the Hameetman Auditorium. (Right) Fred Hameetman (far left) with fellow classmates at the 1962 grand opening of Winnett Student Center.
06/04/2012 07:00:00

Hameetman Foundation gives $6.2 Million to Rebuild Campus Center

Gift marks 50th milestones

Caltech trustee and 50th reunion chair Fred Hameetman (BS '62) and his wife, Joyce, are the motivating force behind a multimillion-dollar gift that will transform Caltech campus life for generations to come.

The Hameetman Foundation, established by the couple in 2005, pledged a lead $6.2 million gift to help kick-start a comprehensive renovation of the Winnett Student Center. The gift, announced during a 50th-reunion dinner on May 17, celebrates milestones for both the couple and the campus. It marks the 50th year on campus of Winnett, which opened on June 8, 1962—the day Fred Hameetman graduated from the Institute. It also commemorates the Hameetman’s 50th wedding anniversary next year, as well as what would have been Fred Hameetman’s late mother’s 100th birthday. Care was taken to date the gift agreement on her birthday and to have Caltech accept the gift on the dates of the Hameetmans’ grandchildren’s birthdays, thereby involving 4 generations.

The new student center will be renamed the Hameetman Center in the Foundation's and family’s honor.

"The Hameetman Center will create a shared gathering space where today's students can interact across residential and academic barriers, and build lasting friendships that enhance the Caltech experience and serve them throughout their life," says Anneila I. Sargent, vice president for student affairs and the Benjamin M. Rosen Professor of Astronomy.

Among many upgrades being considered are the creation of an open, versatile lounge and common area on the ground floor; a new music rehearsal room and dance studio; an interior stair and elevator core to unify all three floors; and an enlarged outdoor patio with barbecues, heating lamps, and electrical outlets. Caltech has also received a supplemental planned gift in excess of $1 million from emeritus professor of theoretical physics Steven Frautschi and his wife, Mie, for the creation of the music rehearsal room.

"These generous gifts provide us with an opportunity to enrich campus life by establishing a lively student hub that can strengthen our collaborative community," says Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau.

In the following Q&A, Fred Hameetman discussed the motivation and vision behind this transformational gift.

What motivated the Hameetman Foundation to support Caltech's campus by renovating the student center?

First of all, Jean-Lou asked us . . . it was high on his to-do list! A walkthrough showed it was clearly underused, but with good bones. It is our desire for it to become a center of Caltech activity . . . a gathering place for students and faculty, undergrads, grad students, post docs, administrators, faculty, TAs, JPL engineers and staff, Associates, Alumna/i, visitors, locals—all of the above. It is so centrally located, we hope it will be a perfect meeting, gathering, idea exchanging, and relaxing place for everyone. 

Why is the Hameetman Foundation making this gift now?

This is the 50th anniversary of the Class of '62’s graduation from Caltech, the 50th anniversary of the tear down of the "Old Dorm"—or the "Greasy" as we knew it—and the construction of Winnett.

What significance does Caltech have for you and your wife? 

After I came over from Occidental on the 3/2 plan, we dated on the campus. I remember a Halloween party in the Greasy complete with geology punch and a floating "nudesicle" when a sophomore rode his motorcycle up the stairs and into the Greasy . . . just before it was demolished. I entered as a junior and was one of the first to occupy Page House, just east of the center. Two years later, Joyce was with us as we graduated on the lawn between the Athenaeum and the Olive Walk.

You and Joyce dated throughout your time at Caltech and were married the year after graduation. How have you continued to stay involved?

Joyce has been involved with the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Board, which supports seven university PhD programs (including Caltech), for 20-plus years. I was not involved enough as I ran a Hypervelocity Shock Tunnel for Douglas Aircraft, helped raise our family, got involved with investments and built a real estate business, but about 10 years ago, it became time for us to reconnect with Caltech and we became Associates. Joyce has been the Westside chairman for some time, bringing the genius of Caltech to West L.A., and I became a trustee just in time to cast my vote in the unanimous election of Jean-Lou Chameau as President. We are delighted with the results. Caltech being #1 2011 Times Higher Education this year is especially pleasing and motivating to the foundation.

What is it like for you to come back and visit the campus?

Great memories! That annual mess on the Olive Walk is now a gourmet treat. The "Ride of the Valkyries" is still inspiring. I love it every time the students pull off great pranks . . . even though the best were done in the ’60s.

What significance does the Caltech student center hold for you?

Much mentioned above, but following the tradition of the ’20s and ’30s, several of us carved our initials in the new bricks as soon as they were unveiled. The quality of our workmanship is clearly inferior to the earlier efforts.

What impact do you hope a new student center can have on campus?

We hope it will truly be a gathering spot for all the groups mentioned before. Sharing ideas, brainstorming, having fun, partying, and working hard and smart in teams and individually. 

How?

When I was there in the ’60s, socializing was mainly focused on the houses or sports. There were amazing people at Caltech when I was there, but we never crossed paths with many of them. The Hameetman Center should be a place for all at Caltech/JPL to get to know and really enjoy each other. Did I mention that there are women at Caltech now? 

I also hope it will be a showcase for the Art of Science, like the amazing photos from JPL of space and of earth and the incredible microscopic views of nano-everything and DNA, for example. 

Further, we want it to be a spot to remember Caltech/Throop/Polytechnic's fantastic history. Much has been lost, but we can bring back the "Dugout" (Caltech’s student center, built in 1924, with the famous brick fireplace) and "Throop Club" (a hang-out spot for nonresident students), as well as the clock, Apollo Belvedere (a copy of the statue in the Vatican museum, which was gifted to Caltech in 1911), and Alexander Stirling Calder's arches from the demolished Pasadena Hall/Throop Hall.

You have set a bold goal of 100 percent participation for giving by your reunion class. Why?

My class loves a challenge. I want everyone to think about Caltech, the great times and education we received there, and to just be part of it. Participate! If it’s just $62, that will help us reach a high level, and allow the good feelings that come with giving and being part of something really important . . . a legacy for their family.

 P.S.  The Class of 1962 set records and received awards for raising the largest class reunion gift, participation, and greatest increase in the number of Torchbearers (including Caltech in their estate planning).

Do you hope that this gift will help motivate the 1962 class toward achieving that?

Of course, but Caltech/JPL accomplishes so much in science, medicine, earth studies, and in space. Charles Elachi and his JPL team have achieved amazing things with 75 percent of all interplanetary probes to their credit. Talk about audacious; have you seen that MSL landing system? But most importantly, Caltech accomplishes almost impossible assignments, responsibly and frugally. Almost everything at Caltech is cost effective. Where else can you get such a bang for your charitable buck??        

Written by Shayna Chabner McKinney