They called him “Mr. Cal Poly Pomona,” and for good reason.
Ron Simons’ dedication to the university began as a college freshman during the Eisenhower Administration and continued for more than 50 years as he worked for the university for 43 years and remained involved in his beloved Rose Float program long after his retirement in 2012.
Simons died Aug. 26. He was 79.
His dedication to Rose Float was happenstance for the campus icon, also affectionately known as “Mr. Rose Float.” Simons recalled in a 2012 article that when he was a freshman in the early 1960s, one of his roommates invited him to tag along to a meeting about this new program. Simons said he knew he had to be a part of it.
“Here we were, building something that was going to be seen by people around the world,” Simons said. “I’ll be honest, I was excited. I got hooked, and, as they say, the rest in history.”
“Ron Simons epitomized Bronco pride,” said President Soraya M. Coley. “His tireless dedication to the Rose Float program, the way he never stopped giving back to campus through his various philanthropic endeavors and the enduring legacy he left as Cal Poly Pomona’s fiercest champion will never be forgotten.”
During college, the old Rose Float lab was a second home for Simons. He celebrated his 18th birthday there. He put his signature on several floats over the years, including the starring role in the 1962 entry “Man on the Moon.” A University Archives photo shows Simons riding on that float dressed as an astronaut, seven years before Neil Armstrong planted the American flag on the moon.
He served as co-chair of the Rose Float Club in 1963 and chair in 1964. After graduating — for the first time — with an agronomy degree in 1964, Simons enlisted in the U.S. Army and entered Officer Candidate School. He returned to Cal Poly Pomona after serving three years and received a second degree in food, marketing and agribusiness management in 1969.
Simons worked on more award-winning floats, chairing the Rose Float Club again in 1968. That year’s float, “The Mouse That Got Away,” won the Princess Award for excellence in animation, but it wasn’t the only reason for celebration. He met his wife, Judy, at a post-parade dinner.
Bob Pettis (’63, agronomy) recalls how Simons brought the Rose Float program back to life when he returned to campus in 1968.
“When he arrived on campus, Dean of Students Henry House met him at the door,” Pettis said. “Dean House told him, ‘We have problems Ron.’ Ron was told there was no Rose Float committee from the previous year, no budget, no flowers and no interest on the part of students or the administration to do another float. ‘It stops here, or you can suit up again.’
“Ron Simons rose to the challenge, and while carrying a normal student load, he restarted the float program and on New Year’s Day, 1968; the Cal Poly float titled ‘The Mouse That Got Away’ rolled down the streets of Pasadena.”
After graduating the second time around, then University President Bob Kramer asked Simons what he wanted to do next. Simons complained that all of the Alumni Association work was being done out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly Pomona was a part of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in its early years, with students attending CPP for two years and completing their last two years at SLO, before CPP earned its independence in 1966.
So, Kramer gave Simons the greenlight to start Cal Poly Pomona’s Alumni Association. Simons was the campus’ first director of alumni affairs and also served as assistant to the president. During his tenure at Cal Poly Pomona, he also was key in creating the Division of University Advancement and served as its associate vice president for university advancement until his retirement.
“Ron Simons was a natural leader and communicator who knew that building relationships with alumni was the best way to strengthen the university and plan for its future.,” said Dan Montplaisir, vice president for university advancement. “He set the standard for his team and understood that an investment in relationships would pay dividends in contributions, career placement for graduates, and lifelong friendships. He designed and staffed the first University Advancement organization that is the foundation of our program today.“
Dale Wong (’77, electronics engineering technology) first met Simons when Wong was a graduate student volunteering for Rose Float in 1978. Wong was studying to earn an MBA at the time. They grew closer when Wong helped design and install the lab’s electrical system.
The program was pretty lean in those days, Wong said, adding that Simons was instrumental in motivating students to recruit participants.
“He would give you the inspiration to recruit,” Wong said. “He was always positive. He never had a negative comment about anyone. His words were always to inspire.”
Wong recalled Simons always being the first on the scene if there were any issues with one of the floats being transported to Pasadena, always showing up in his coveralls ready to work on the problems.
In July 2021, the university completed construction on a new Rose Float lab. The structure was named The Don Miller and Ron Simons Rose Float Lab, recognizing the contributions of Miller, who started the program in 1949 and Simons, who built it up from where it began. Simons donated generously to both the Don E. Miller Rose Float Endowment and the Rose Float Building Complex fund.
Simons was a philanthropist. He led the fundraising efforts for the Aratani Japanese Garden project, the Voorhis Alumni Park and the renovation of Kellogg House Pomona. He was one of the first alumni to receive the Cal Poly Pomona Distinguished Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award. He received an honorary doctorate from the university in 2012.
Kathy Harcharik, president of the Pace Setters and faculty emeritus in the College of Business Administration, said Simons was very giving to Pace Setters, the organization for retired staff and faculty, assisting club presidents, providing wine for luncheons and speaking at events.
“His unique sense of humor was his trademark,” Harcharik said. “Ron was the featured speaker at our 35th anniversary luncheon. He went over his allotted time and no one minded. We were all being fully entertained. Ron was dedicated to making each activity a success and added a dimension of fun to everything he did.”
Memorial services are pending, but there is no information available at this time.