Michael Oppenheim spent so much time in the University Library as a Cal Poly Pomona student, he thought of it as a second home.
Although the son of librarians had the equivalent of a small reference library while growing up in the family’s Pomona home, Oppenheim (’76, English) fondly recalls his time perusing the stacks for pleasure and doing research for his course assignments.
“My experience at the Cal Poly Pomona library expanded my horizons and consciousness immensely — even without the internet, or perhaps especially without the internet — and I have a lifetime of wonderful, cherished memories of study, exploration and discovery,” he says.
Oppenheim has remained close to the university in several ways, including serving as a lifetime member of the Friends of the Library and earning a place in the Dean’s Circle on the library’s Wall of Appreciation.
Now, the research librarian at the Rosenfeld Management Library at UCLA plans to do even more: He recently made a $1 million bequest, with the bulk of his gift going to the library. A portion of the bequest will go to the English department’s John A. Lesser Invitational High School Shakespeare Festival, of which he has served as a judge since his university days.
“The library has always been very important to me,” he says. “In adding up all of the time, I probably spent as much time in the library as I spent in classrooms.”
Although Oppenheim grew up close to campus, Cal Poly Pomona wasn’t really on his radar when he considered colleges. It was frustration with getting his only B n an Algebra II class at Pomona High School that prompted him to forgo attending his senior year. Oppenheim had already accumulated enough credits to earn his diploma. For college, his parents suggested that the then 16-year-old consider Cal Poly Pomona, which led him to stop by the bookstore to pick up a schedule of classes.
Oppenheim asked the person at the checkout counter to recommend some good professors, and the clerk cited Lillian Wilds. He stood outside her crowded freshman English composition class hoping for an opening in her afternoon class that would enable him to get home in time to watch his favorite soap operas.
“I got into the class and that’s what changed my life – Dr. Lillian Wilds,” he says. “The impact she had on my life was an equal impact on my life as both of my parents had. She was a born teacher. She believed things about me that I didn’t even know were in me.”
Wilds, whose specialty was Shakespeare, encouraged Oppenheim to attend more plays after starting the annual Shakespeare Festival. She recruited him as a student assistant and later as a judge.
After graduating summa cum laude, Oppenheim earned a master’s degree in English from UCLA in 1977 and a master’s degree in library and information science in 1986 from USC. He has worked at several college libraries, including Cal State Long Beach, UC Irvine, Whittier College and Cal State Los Angeles.
However, Oppenheim, a cancer survivor, continued to participate in the high school Shakespeare Festival and kept his ties to Cal Poly Pomona strong.
Library Dean Ray Wang recalls meeting Oppenheim in 2009 after the library was renovated. The pair, both avid readers, librarians and English majors, found they had a lot in common.
“The first thing he said to me was that this was his home away from home, his safe haven,” Wang says. “As a student, he felt very safe here.”
Over the years, Oppenheim has donated to the library several times. A few years ago, the library received grant funding to build a collection that would serve the Latino population. The grant stipulated that an endowment of $135,000 be raised to get matching funds from the federal government. Oppenheim contributed, Wang says.
John Huynh, the library’s director of development, says Oppenheim’s bequest demonstrates that a person doesn’t need great wealth in order to give.
“When people include us in planned gifts, it is the ultimate and final gift that someone can give to the university,” Huynh says. “Michael has gone above and beyond. It’s clear that he loves the university.”