When Al Reser ’60 came home early from an accounting exam in the College of Business, his wife, Pat ’60, asked him why—the exam was supposed to take two hours.
Al had finished it in 20 minutes.
The quick turnaround surprised Al’s professor, Earl Goddard, too. When Al turned in his exam, Goddard said, ‘You only used up 20 minutes. Are you sure you don’t want to look at this again?’ Al returned to his desk and checked over the problem. He got up, returned it to Goddard, telling him, ‘Yep. This is right.’
The next time the class met, Goddard, who would serve as dean of the College of Business from 1967-1983, pulled Al aside and asked him how he came to a solution that worked for the test, but one the professor hadn’t anticipated.
“Al would never cut corners to make something work,” Pat said. “Rather, he’d look at a problem and ask, ‘Is there a different or better way?'”
After they talked about the exam, Al and Goddard developed a mutual respect, and Pat would credit Goddard with nurturing and mentoring Al throughout his time at Oregon State. “Dr. Goddard unleashed in Al a different way to think,” she said.
The lessons, as well as Al’s unconventional approach to problem-solving, served him well as he and Pat went on to grow Reser’s Fine Foods, the family business, from a $300,000 a year company to a $500 million + enterprise in the decades after they graduated from Oregon State.
Throughout those decades, the Resers and their family have generously supported the university through the Oregon State University Foundation, including leadership gifts to facilities like Reser Stadium, Gill Coliseum, the Sports Performance Center, the Linus Pauling Science Center and Austin Hall, the College of Business’ home.
“It’s impossible to overstate the impact Pat and Al Reser have had on Oregon State,” said Shawn Scoville, president and CEO of the Oregon State University Foundation. “Al was a visionary and innovative business leader, and he is without question one of our most successful graduates ever. Pat is a deeply experienced and sophisticated volunteer leader and philanthropist. Together, their ability to see the university holistically and encourage us to seek excellence has been inspirational as well as motivational. I am grateful to Pat for honoring Al’s contributions to OSU, our state and his industry, in perpetuity with this endowed chair.”
After Al passed away in 2010, the Reser family continued to give to Oregon State, supporting students, programs, the arts in particular, and faculty, including several endowed faculty positions.
Al’s relationship with Goddard is one reason why Pat, through a gift to the college in 2021, created the Al Reser Endowed Chair in the College of Business. “I wanted a few more Dr. Goddards around,” Pat said.
The gift will support teaching excellence in the College of Business and will bring its number of endowed faculty to seven.
“We deeply appreciate Pat and her family’s generosity in creating a new endowed chair for the College of Business,” said Tim Carroll, the Sara Hart Kimball Dean of the College of Business. “We know how much focusing on faculty excellence means for our students’ success and inspiration, as well as our ability to recruit the best faculty to the College of Business.”
For Pat, who was awarded the lifetime trustee award from the OSU Foundation in March for her service and philanthropy, creating the endowed chair was a way to honor Al’s work on behalf of the university and keep his memory alive.
“I’ve had a lot of exposure at Oregon State since I served as the chair of the Board of Trustees and co-chair of the Campaign for OSU,” Pat said. “It dawned on me, kind of crept up on me, that I don’t want people to forget Al’s contribution and who he was. I thought, ‘I want to do this.'”
For Al and Pat, some of the beauty of their 52-year marriage was a set of shared values embracing family, leadership, innovation, vision and community responsibility— even as the public spotlight eventually moved from husband to wife.
Al had been a visionary in his field, inspiring advances in food packaging and equipment as well as initiating strategic company acquisitions, something their son, Mark, continued to do when he became CEO in 2006. Also a College of Business graduate (and parent), Mark has taken the company to new levels of success, eclipsing $1 billion + in annual revenue.
“Al’s radar was going 360 degrees all the time,” when it came to innovating for the business, Pat said. He carried that focus into his leadership positions at Oregon State as well, including the OSU Foundation’s Board of Trustees and the Beaver Athletic Student Fund’s Board of Directors.
At home, Pat served as an unofficial business advisor to Al, something she learned only after his passing. “We had many conversations about the business,” she said. “When he brought ideas home, I often didn’t know whether they were his or someone else’s suggestions, but he would ask, ‘What do you think about this?'”
After Al’s funeral, an employee called Pat to offer condolences. He recalled that whenever he’d gone to Al with an idea, Al said he would run it by Pat first. “That really touched my heart, because at the time I didn’t realize I was serving in that role,” she said.
Pat was community-focused from a young age. While living in Vancouver, British Columbia, as a young teen, in honor of the Pacific National Exhibition which would draw hundreds of thousands of visitors, she organized a yearly neighborhood parade. In high school, she was involved in choir productions and on leadership committees.
In college, Pat earned her B.S. in Elementary education and taught for 5 years. Later she earned her M.S. in Special Education and spent 15 years in special education in the Beaverton school district.
“I have an interest in organizing things,” she said. “I love the responsibility of figuring things out. I have always been that way.” As she was raising the couple’s five children (four of whom also attended OSU), Pat served as a Cub Scout den mother and a Brownie troop leader. She taught Sunday school and held every office she could in her children’s elementary school.
“When you’re a mother of five kids and have a husband who also needs support, you work hard to keep everything going with an element of harmony,” she said. “But I’ve always thought of it as concentric circles. Once my kids were pretty much launched, my world got bigger. I became more involved with Oregon State and developed a voice there.”
As Pat became more involved at Oregon State, her concentric circles widened there, too. “I think I’m most proud of being able to see the university as a whole and being able to invest in many different areas,” she said. “It was like watching a flower with many petals unfold for me. I started seeing that there were no limits to what could be done when there weren’t silos. I’ve honed that skill over time.”
That thinking harkens back to Pat’s career in education, where she took a multidisciplinary approach to special education — finding out what would be getting in the way of a child’s learning and devising ways to make a difference. “I’m steeped in that collaborative way of thinking, and that’s been instrumental for the university, too.”
That way of thinking is something that honors Al, too.