By Scott MacClelland
Rowland Rebele lives life with passion. And when his zeal for live music is exercised, you might want to scurry the little kids out of earshot. In that particular passion, Reb, as he is known to his friends, quickly gets loud and has been heard dropping F-bombs in public, borne of sheer enthusiasm. He doesn’t deny it. “They’re going to hear it sooner or later.” Reb and his wife Pat came to Santa Cruz in 1979 and made their home in Aptos not far from the old railroad right of way and the cliffs above Monterey Bay. While their success in business—publishing newspapers primarily—enriched them in other California towns and in other states, they chose to make their home here for the same reason most of the rest of us do: climate, natural beauty, relatively minor population and traffic congestion and the amazing diversity and concentration of art and artists. Pat Rebele, herself an artist, balances—or at least tries to—her husband’s passions for music with her own determination to support primarily the visual arts.
Though perhaps not on the same scale, the Rebeles are not unlike Warren Buffett and Bill Gates; their largess extends with similar intensity to social issues, to easing the suffering of those less fortunate. As Reb says about the Family Shelter of the Homeless Services Center in Santa Cruz, “my name is on the building, and I have to live up to it.” And now, they are committed to the creation of the “newly developing” Institute of the Arts and Sciences at UC Santa Cruz, set to break ground in four years. “Hopefully it will be completed while we’re still alive,” says the 83-year-old Rebele.
The San Francisco native graduated from Stanford in 1951, where as a senior he edited the Stanford Daily. He served a stint as a naval officer, then took an MBA at Harvard. He bought, published and sold weekly newspapers in Fresno, San Diego and Butte counties, as well as Colorado, Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. He also supports journalism internship programs at Stanford and Cabrillo.
“It’s a love of the arts, the total enjoyment in hearing and seeing fine art,” he says. Rebele has long been a major benefactor—sometimes billed as sponsor or partner—of the Santa Cruz Symphony (which he served as board president in the past), Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, New Music Works and Santa Cruz Chamber Players. “The quality of the art in this county is just phenomenal,” he says, “and so close at hand.” He cites the proximity of Cabrillo College, whose string program under Susan Brown he also supports, and the Aptos church where the Chamber Players perform. “It’s practically right out our front door.” The Distinguished Artists series, now using Peace United Church as its primary venue, also receives support from the Rebeles. In fact, they have funded struggling arts organizations and, it could be said, saved some of them from demise. With their help, the new Santa Cruz Shakespeare has emerged in excellent health from the ashes of the late Shakespeare Santa Cruz.
The arts of Santa Cruz County owe a huge debt of gratitude to Pat and Rowland Rebele for being “phenomenal.”