Philanthropic Couple: Alumni Jerry Dietz '75 and Judy Schapiro Dietz '76
A 1970s-era Ithaca couple sets benchmarks for community involvement. by Elizabeth Field with Maura Stephens
When it comes to fund-raising, Jerry Dietz ’75 and Judy Schapiro Dietz ’76 acknowledge, potential donors must first understand an issue, and then feel it in their hearts. Only then will they be willing to reach into their pockets. “People don’t give away money for just anything,” says Jerry. “It has to mean something to them.”
Jerry would know: In the last dozen years, he and Judy have led Ithaca-area fund-raising efforts that have resulted in more than $1.4 million for fighting hunger and AIDS. Every June, Jerry chairs the Taste of the Nation event at Ithaca College to raise money for food banks, and for many years Judy volunteered as its finance coordinator. In 1999 Jerry, along with friend Russ Traunstein, organized the first annual AIDS Ride for Life, a 100-mile bike ride around Cayuga Lake to benefit AIDS-Work of the Southern Tier. Since then the ride has grown to attract upwards of 300 participants. Judy has participated in the event nearly every September since its inception; this year she coordinated pit stops for the riders.
Jerry and Judy share a philosophy about their role in their adopted hometown. “We feel blessed to have all the wonderful things that we have in our life,” says Judy. “We’ve had a great education, and we feel very strongly about being good members of this community. That means giving back with our time, energy, talents, and money—when we can and when it’s appropriate.”
Her husband agrees. “Everyone has a strength,” he points out. “There are ways to share that strength with a community, whether it’s riding for AIDS or fighting hunger. Productive communities find ways to give back—and it doesn’t have to be about money.”
Jerry has owned and operated two area businesses: Ragmanns, a pub-style restaurant just off the Ithaca Commons, which he co-owned with two of his brothers until selling out his share in 1988; and CSP Management, a property management firm he still runs. He is so devoted to volunteerism that he subsidizes his employees’ service as well. “I pay up to eight hours per year for my staff to go and volunteer for something in the community,” he says. Most of the company’s 17 employees take him up on the offer.
A business administration major who grew up in Rye, New York, Jerry was the head resident for Lyon Hall when he met Judy, a sociology major from Merrick, New York, as she was moving in at the start of her junior year. “It was not love at first sight,” Jerry says. “She asked me if her brother, Dick, could sleep in one of the TV lounges after driving her in from Long Island. I said no.”
Judy can no longer remember where Dick spent the night, but that’s no matter because the end result was that Dick and Jerry became the closest of friends, and she and Jerry became a couple. They married two years after Judy’s graduation in a double wedding ceremony with Judy’s sister, Gail Schapiro ’73, and Jim Salk ’74, who also stayed on in Ithaca. “Ithaca is home,” Jerry says. “We love it here for the community and for the connections we’ve made.”
Of those connections, IC is once again playing a central role. Their son, Robert, is a music major in his sophomore year, and his cousin Steven, son of Judy’s brother Dick, is a sophomore business major. Judy’s current job as community liaison at the History Center in Tompkins County has reconnected her with her alma mater as the organization plans a six-month-long exhibit on the history of Ithaca College [see page 25]. And Jerry’s work with Taste of the Nation brings him back up to South Hill each year to plan and run the event, held in the Emerson Suites.
“Chairing this event has been a great way for me to reconnect with IC,” Jerry says. “This is a huge gala, with 24 restaurants, 18 wineries, and 2 microbreweries participating—and the campus has welcomed us with open arms. Ithaca College is a great host.”
David Prunty, IC’s director of conference and events services, speaks just as warmly of Jerry as a client. “He’s wonderful,” says Prunty, “so deeply committed to the cause of fighting hunger. He goes far out of his way to put on a classy event. We are extremely happy to host Taste of the Nation, and to work in partnership with Jerry Dietz.”
Judy and Jerry at this year’s Taste of the Nation event at IC, above; and on their wedding day (inset, at left).