Schaal, 64, changed the face of UC Davis

Rand Schaal acknowledges an appreciative crowd at a 2004 women's water polo game. Dr. Schaal's generosity paved the way for what is now the ARC, Aggie Stadium and the aquatics center that bears his and his father's name.
(Wayne Tilcock, Davis Enterprise)
Sept. 28, 2015 DAVIS, Calif. - Dr. Rand B. Schaal, a UC Davis alumnus, former student-athlete, lecturer and benefactor, passed away during a road trip to Arizona earlier in September. He was 64. Rand and his father, Ted, are best known within the intercollegiate athletics community as the namesake of the Schaal Aquatics Center, the home of the university’s water polo and swimming and diving programs.

Dr. Schaal attended UC Davis from 1969 to 1973, during which he competed as a member of the swim team under head coach Jerry Hinsdale. He earned his bachelor’s degree in geology in 1973, added a master’s degree from UCLA in 1976, then returned to his undergraduate alma mater, where he picked up his Ph.D in geology in 1991. During his pursuit of his doctorate, Dr. Schaal joined the geology department faculty as a lecturer. His students dubbed him “Moon Dude” because of his specialty in lunar rocks. He also founded the UC Davis Geology Department Alumni Association in 1988.

Throughout his career, Dr. Schaal’s interest in swimming and aquatics never waned. He joined the Davis Aquatic Masters, and competed in open-water races throughout the 1980s and 1990s. On April 21, 1998, Rand and Ted made a $1.4 million donation to the university, $1 million of which was earmarked for an Olympic-sized swimming pool on the south end of the campus. This gift was the most sizable of Dr. Schaal’s many philanthropic efforts for both the geology and intercollegiate athletics departments at UC Davis.

“That gift brought the best pool not just to our campus, but to our community and our region. It’s certainly the best pool in the county,” said head women’s water polo coach Jamey Wright, who has also coached women’s swimming and men’s water polo during his 33-year career. “Rand clearly understood the need for a 50-meter pool. I think teaching here gave him the unique position of knowing the students, and knowing the campus and its mission. He was more in touch with the athletics department because he was on campus. Rand had a passion for aquatics, an understanding of the needs of the community, and an appreciation and love for UC Davis.”

Additionally, that donation — the largest to Aggie athletics at that time — served as a lead gift that sparked the 1999 Facilities and Campus Enhancement Initiative. Passed overwhelmingly by student vote that February, FACE funds what is now Schaal Aquatics Center, Aggie Stadium, and the Activities & Recreation Center. According to Greg Warzecka, the UC Davis director of athletics from 1995 to 2011, Schaal’s generosity affected not only the aquatics student-athletes, but all members of the campus community.

“Rand’s gift launched an era that created a focus on facility improvements that would benefit future generations of students,” said Warzecka. “It spurred that 1999 initiative. It got people’s attention. He hoped that it would create a ‘wow’ effect for students, future students, alumni, staff and faculty.

Dr. Schaal suffered a major stroke during the year between his and his father’s gift to the university and the passage of FACE. He was forced to retire from lecturing in the geology department and temporarily halted his other pastime of piloting airplanes. However, that did not slow his dedication to UC Davis aquatics. He continued to attend water polo games and swim meets at the facility that bore his name, and even volunteered on the timing crew for latter events. Though his speech was slurred, his step slowed and his typing largely limited to one hand, Dr. Schaal’s mind remained sharp: he authored a trilogy of adventure novels for young adults in which the titular character was — appropriately — a geologist/pilot who explored coastal California and the U.S. Southwest.

Dr. Schaal resided to Arizona after retiring from the real estate business in 2012. He continued to make frequent trips to Davis to visit friends and family, and to take in an Aggie swim meet or water polo game.