Ron and Mitzi Barhorst may not be California State University alumni, but that hasn’t stopped the couple from being among the most passionate, dedicated supporters of the CSU. It’s a thriving friendship that has spanned nearly 20 years.
The Barhorsts, who make their home in Connecticut, have not only given generously to the CSU, they have served it well. For nearly 18 years, Ron has been chair of the CSU Foundation Board of Governors; in that time, he has actively recruited distinguished leaders to become new members of the board.
Most recently, Ron and Mitzi announced a $100,000 endowment benefitting the CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement. “Over the years, we’ve become more and more involved with the CSU as we see what it means to not only the community and the state, but to the nation,” Ron says of their gift.
“The impact of the CSU is massive.”
The list of what impresses the Barhorsts about the CSU is a lengthy one.
Says Ron, “The number of graduates that come out of the university system; the great education those graduates get; the access the university gives to people; their commitment to serve historically underserved populations; and the passion and commitment the students have — I think they see it as a real opportunity and real honor to get an education.”
He also notes the tremendous diversity of the student population and the social mobility that’s part of the campuses’ DNA.
“Everyone I’ve met is trying to help themselves through education,” he observes. “But more important, they’re trying to help their families, the community. One of the primary things they want to do is give back. My wife was a first-generation student and you just see [that commitment] in folks that get that opportunity.”
Mitzi is equally emphatic in her appreciation. Every year, she looks forward to meeting the recipient of the Ron and Mitzi Barhorst Scholarship. “You can see that enthusiasm and the impact these scholarships have on these students,” Mitzi says. “You can really tell how much they appreciate it.”
Ron’s first link to the CSU came in 2000 while he was working at Aetna Retirement Services, which provided retirement plans to non-profit and government employees, including university staff. Aetna also supported the CalStateTEACH program, which aims to remedy the significant teacher shortage in California.
The CSU’s leading role in preparing the most teachers in the state meant that Ron soon met Chancellor Charlie Reed, then the leader of the CSU. Both Ron and Mitzi were taken with Chancellor Reed’s passion and the university’s mission to offer all Californians a high-quality education.
Serving others was already part of the Barhorsts’ lives; both had learned early on from their families to give back. By the time they met as students at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Mitzi was studying to become a social worker and Ron was a biology major with an interest in medicine.
Later, Mitzi convinced her husband to become involved with organizations serving people with developmental disabilities, and Ron eventually started a non-profit that provided group homes and semi-independent living for people with disabilities.
“It’s really an honor to give back,” Ron, who retired as president and chief executive officer of ING Financial Advisers, LLC and Systematized Benefits Administrators, Inc.
Their lives remain full and active — centering largely around their philanthropic work — and a highlight is meeting CSU alumni wherever they go. “It seems like every time we turn around, we meet a Cal State person,” says Mitzi. “It’s just incredible how many people go through the system. I’m really impressed by it.
We just want to do whatever we can to keep it going.”
Holder, a graduate student at CSU Monterey Bay, is currently studying applied marine and watershed science.