In Memoriam: The enduring SDSU legacy of Frederick W. Pierce, IV

Fred Pierce believed San Diego State University changed his life, so he dedicated himself to enhancing its greatness.

Monday, July 8, 2024
Christine and Fred Pierce smile for photo in front of the Pierce Pavilion sign at SDSU's Snapdragon Stadium.
Christine and Fred Pierce

It has been 40 years since Frederick W. Pierce, IV (’84 finance, ’88 MBA) earned his first of two degrees from San Diego State University.  Over those four decades, he has made countless contributions to the school in every conceivable way — from donor, volunteer and advisor to spokesman, liaison, influencer and motivator — all to the considerable benefit of SDSU, its students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni.

Next in line to become chair of The Campanile Foundation Board of Directors, the university’s influential fundraising arm, Pierce died unexpectedly June 11 after a brief illness. His loss is felt throughout the university and beyond. Pierce’s limitless enthusiasm and leadership leaves a lasting mark.

Campanile Foundation Board Chair Steve Doyle (‘80, '21) recalls working with Pierce and other notable alumni to form Friends of SDSU, the advocates promoting passage of Measure G that paved the way for SDSU Mission Valley. During the campaign, they appeared before groups and spoke to the media, but according to Doyle, Pierce had a special knack for pitching SDSU. 

“He was just a natural for it. We all did TV interviews, but anybody who ever saw him only remembers Fred doing them,” Doyle said. “That tells you how good he was.”

Doyle said Pierce commanded attention with an ability to move people, excite them and get them energized and involved. “It's a tremendous loss that we won't have his voice and always waving the SDSU flag.”

A consummate professional

Pierce’s business savvy and leadership skills were broadly admired and sought by companies, organizations, institutions and industries. His résumé lists more than three dozen memberships, chair positions, presidencies and trusteeships of a wide range of boards and committees. He was trustee emeritus of the 23-campus California State University (CSU) system. 

Adam Day (‘91), Chief Administrative Officer of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation and son of SDSU’s sixth president, the late Thomas B. Day, served as the CSU Board of Trustees chair in 2018-20. Day said he has received more than a dozen condolences from CSU colleagues recalling Pierce’s dedication and commitment to the CSU and SDSU.

“Serving as a trustee can almost be like a full-time job and like everything he did, Fred jumped in with both feet,” Day recalled. “He was a consummate professional who was highly researched and asked questions all the time.”

Pierce was president and CEO of Pierce Education Properties, a leading national student housing investment and operating company based in San Diego. His company developed Topaz, a new student housing property that opened last year on Montezuma Road adjacent to campus. A second property on 55th Street, College View, is currently leasing for the fall semester. Earlier in his career, Pierce led the development team that built SDSU’s Fraternity Row and Piedra del Sol campus housing.

'The Mayor of San Diego State'

Maintaining an ongoing connection to the Fowler College of Business, Pierce served on its advisory board as well as The Corky McMillin Center for Real Estate board. Many scholarships for business students bear the Pierce name.

In August 2022, Dan Moshavi became the Thomas and Evelyn Page Dean of the Fowler College of Business. He soon identified Pierce as a results-oriented, go-to guy with a passion for all things Fowler College of Business. Moshavi learned that his affable nature and ability to get things done had earned Pierce an affectionate nickname: The Mayor of San Diego State.

“Fred liked being helpful and he was,” Moshavi said. “He was absolutely the university's biggest booster that I came across and was just a terrific ambassador for SDSU and the Fowler College of Business in particular.”

Moshavi described Pierce as an essential player in pulling together key alumni in the real estate arena, but he is more grateful to Fred, he said, for kindly taking the initiative to smooth the new dean’s path. “Whenever I saw him in a larger public setting, especially when I was newer, Fred would take the time to introduce me to people, and that was instrumental in helping me build my network.”

Greek Life Center

Through the years, Fred and Christine Pierce have made substantial multimillion-dollar contributions to SDSU.  In 2023, SDSU’s Division of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity dedicated the Pierce Greek Life Center thanks to a $3 million endowment gift from the couple. 

The center is designed to help sustain fraternity and sorority life at SDSU by extending leadership skill development and access to the campus Greek experience to a broader range of students. At the announcement, Pierce said his student experience with Beta Theta Pi fraternity created lifetime friendships that he hopes will be possible for future generations of Aztecs.

Just across 55th Street from the Pierce Greek Life Center, the Pierce Family Foyer at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center is named for the Pierces as well.

Fred Pierce was a past president of SDSU Alumni and was twice honored with the organization’s Distinguished Alumni Award, in 1999 from the Fowler College of Business and in 2022 for Distinguished Alumni Service. Over many years Pierce has supported students by funding scholarships administered through SDSU Alumni.

Aztec spirit

Pierce took great satisfaction in supporting and promoting any aspect of SDSU, especially Aztec athletics. He and his family have contributed to numerous athletic department initiatives. Their support includes gifts to the Stadium Excellence Fund which resulted in the athletic department  honoring the Pierces with the upper suite level at Snapdragon Stadium being named The Pierce Pavilion. They have also supported SDSU’s cheer and dance squads, as well as women’s and men’s golf teams.

But perhaps the thing that brought Pierce the most joy was the men’s basketball team. He was involved with the basketball Director’s Cabinet, and he and Christine would frequently travel to away games with the team.

“Fred was the embodiment of Aztec for Life and that Aztec spirit. He was always looking for ways to contribute,” said SDSU Director of Intercollegiate Athletics John David Wicker

Wicker said Pierce was involved in name, image, and likeness (NIL) fundraising efforts, but his contributions were often more than monetary. “From a standpoint of being there, Fred was a guy who loved to go to events,” Wicker said. “He was a person who was present.”

One of Pierce’s greatest thrills was the Aztecs’ appearance in the 2023 NCAA Championship game. Proud of their accomplishment, he helped charter a plane for SDSU players and coaches to be honored and congratulated by the Senate and Assembly at the state Capitol for representing California on a national stage. 

In gratitude for his support, men’s head basketball coach Brian Dutcher surprised Pierce with an official Final Four ring, a gesture that was deeply meaningful to Fred. 

A lasting legacy

If you had asked Fred Pierce to name his proudest contribution to San Diego State, he would most likely have said his daughters, Riley and Peyton ('15). He was so happy to have them choose SDSU — his university — as their university.

His SDSU accomplishments will long remain on campus, but through his inexhaustible devotion to his alma mater, Pierce set an example for his daughters and all Aztec alumni to follow. That is his true legacy, and that’s what Adam Day says he will never forget.

“Fred was such an incredible force of life and force of positive change for the campus and he is definitely going to be missed,” Day said. “Fred was everywhere and he was the number one cheerleader for SDSU.  I know that’s how I will remember him.

“He was so passionate and such a strong believer. SDSU is a far better place because of Fred Pierce.”

In reflecting on her friendship and many collaborations with Pierce, SDSU President Adela de la Torre concurred with Day and called Pierce’s legacy permanent and indelible.

“It’s challenging to think of an achievement or progress during my time at SDSU that didn’t have Fred’s support or direct involvement,” said de la Torre. “His impacts and contributions reach far and wide – from supporting student life and enabling resources for our faculty and staff to his true leadership in energizing the growth of our facilities, athletics, alumni involvement and philanthropy. 

“SDSU has lost a true champion,” de la Torre said. “And as great as his passion was for SDSU, I know it was even greater for his wonderful family. My heart is with them. He will be missed dearly, but his legacy at SDSU will shine brightly for generations to come.” 

To make a donation in memory of Fred, please visit the Stadium Excellence Fund site. The Pierce family is hosting a celebration of life Sunday, September 29th, 2:00 p.m. at SDSU's Montezuma Hall in the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union. For any questions, please email [email protected].

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