The Sontag Legacy

The name Sontag is a fixture on campus, and Pomona said farewell to a benefactor whose generosity and spirit inspired many when Susan Thomas Sontag ’64 P’95 died in September, more than 28 years after being told she had terminal brain cancer and only a few years to live.

The Sontag legacy at Pomona is immense, but a guide to the family tree may be helpful. Philosophy Professor Frederick E. Sontag, known as Fred, influenced generations of students in his 57 years at the College. It is for him that the Sontag Greek Theatre in the wooded area known as the Wash is named.

Fred’s nephew Frederick B. Sontag HMC ’64, known as Rick, met Susan Thomas while growing up in Long Beach and reconnected when she transferred from UC Berkeley to Pomona when he was a student at Harvey Mudd. They became inseparable, married and eventually purchased a small aviation components business, Unison Industries, that they built into a company with 1,500 employees and nearly $200 million in annual revenue before selling it to General Electric in 2002.

The couple became extraordinary supporters of education, particularly with gifts to Pomona and Harvey Mudd College. Each college has a residence hall named in their honor. (Pomona’s LEED Platinum Sontag Hall was completed in 2011.) The couple also established the Rick and Susan Sontag Center for Collaborative Creativity, popularly known as the Hive, to serve The Claremont Colleges, providing both initial operating expenses and an endowment to ensure its longevity.

Beyond campus, they established the Sontag Foundation for brain cancer research and the Brain Tumor Network to help patients affected by brain tumors.

“Their commitment to a greater cause serves as a reminder of our community’s enduring mission,” says Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr.

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