Alena and David Schwaber ’65 provide leadership support for the Sports & Recreation Center
What was once a sloping hill at the end of the Quadrangle has been transformed into a hub of fitness and recreational activity for the WPI community. The new Sports & Recreation Center, dedicated with a special event on Sept. 5, represents WPI’s commitment to educating the whole student by creating an environment that fosters the development of team and communication skills while emphasizing the importance of life balance and personal fulfillment in a high-achieving academic community.
Perhaps no space in the Rec Center better symbolizes WPI’s commitment to educating well-rounded graduates than the Schwaber Dance Studios, where future engineers, scientists, and leaders gather with eminent faculty and dedicated staff to share their passion for tango, salsa, and quickstep. Funded through a generous gift of $750,000 from David Schwaber ’65 and his wife, Alena, the Schwaber Dance Studios honor the memory of David’s parents, Florence and Joseph, and his uncle, Sol.
“David and Alena are among WPI’s most dedicated supporters,” says President Dennis Berkey. “We are deeply grateful to the Schwabers for their leadership contribution to the Sports and Recreation Center, which will have a broad impact on the entire WPI community. The Schwaber Dance Studios are a fitting tribute to their legacy at WPI and to the memory of David’s family.”
The Sports & Recreation Center also houses a four-court, 29,000-square-foot gymnasium circled by an elevated three-lane jogging track; a 25-meter pool for swimming and diving with seating for 250 spectators; a 14,000-square-foot fitness center with separate areas for physical education classes; three convertible squash and racquetball courts; an eight-person rowing tank; multipurpose meeting rooms; well-equipped locker rooms; a training and rehabilitation suite; and offices for coaches, staff members, and students. In addition, the center provides attractive space for large-scale events, including admissions open houses, career fairs, and national academic conferences.
The Schwaber Dance Studios are certain to be among the most sought-after venues on campus for recreational and event space. A wall of windows provides a spectacular view of the Quadrangle. Natural light floods the interior and reflects off the maple dance floor, creating a bright and inviting atmosphere. Like many areas of the new center, the studios are multipurpose and can be configured as one large space or multiple smaller spaces. The Schwaber Dance Studios are appropriate for not only dance, but also yoga, Pilates, aerobics, Tai Chi, and other fitness activities.
Schwaber recalls touring the Rec Center with President Berkey during its construction. While impressed with the size and scope of the facility, he wasn’t immediately inspired to contribute to the project.
“Athleticism is not in my nature,” Schwaber says. However, he and Alena enjoy ballroom dance and regularly take classes for fitness and social interaction. “As you get older, they say learning a language or learning to dance is excellent for your mind. We thought learning the tango would be more fun than learning a new language.”
When they heard the facility would feature a dance studio, the Schwabers found the perfect opportunity to support the Center. The gift notonly represents their interest in dance, but is a testament to David’s WPI experience.
Schwaber says he chose WPI because he wanted an engineering education away from his hometown in Maryland. The first year was a challenge, he remembers. “I wasn’t used to the academic rigor required at WPI.” But he found a supportive community of teachers and learners—an environment that continues to flourish today.
“There was a very strong feeling of cooperation at WPI. As students, you worked as a group. Faculty were there to help you. This experience has made me want to give back—to help an institution that really helped me.”
After graduating from WPI with a degree in chemical engineering, Schwaber joined the family business, Monarch Rubber Company; he spent most of his career there and rose to become president. He developed the revolutionary EVA cushioning for athletic shoes, and, later, when business began to wane as manufacturing moved from America to Asia, he helped Monarch emerge as a manufacturer of polymeric gasketing material.
As Monarch’s president, he continually faced the challenge of recycling manufacturing waste. The experience led to his passion for the environment and environmental engineering and inspired the couple’s gift in 2008 to establish the Alena and David M. Schwaber ’65 Professorship in Environmental Engineering, currently held by Jeanine Plummer.
“A lot of my life was influenced by a family business established by those who came before me,” Schwaber says. Yet he credits his WPI education with giving him the ability to solve problems and make decisions. Schwaber also credits WPI with fueling his interest in chemical engineering. As a result of his undergraduate experience, he was inspired to pursue a technical graduate degree, rather than a business degree. He earned a master’s at Cornell and a PhD at Akron University.
“Even though I was not an academic star, I still ended up being a darn good chemical engineer,” Schwaber says.
Ever mindful of those who made his WPI education possible, as well as the life that came after WPI, Schwaber has dedicated the dance studios that bear his family name to his parents, who provided his WPI education, and his uncle, who established Monarch Rubber Company.
“With my parents providing the brush and my uncle providing the canvas for my life,” he says, “I felt I owed them something.” He has fond memories of his parents gliding across a dance floor together, and he recently discovered that his namesake was not only a dancer, but a dance instructor, as well.
Schwaber is grateful to be able to make this gift to WPI now, while he and Alena can enjoy a tango or two overlooking the Quad.