Article Originally Printed October of 2013
By John Grossi
Earlier this year a policeman approached Mike Walter at a Long Beach community function, and said, “I don’t know you, but I want to express my thanks for what you’ve done. This is the first year in a long time that my son is understanding and enjoying algebra!” The police officer was referring to a tutoring program that Mike and his wife Arline coordinated with LBUSD superintendent Chris Steinhauser, in which motivated high school juniors and seniors get paid to help tutor their 9th and 10th grade counterparts. The program has been a huge success – like most things the Walters are involved with – and begun to instill in Long Beach’s youth two things about which the Walters are extremely passionate: education and helping others.
When most locals hear the names Mike and Arline Walter, they think of the Walter Pyramid at Long Beach State. However, when it comes to the couple’s generosity, their donation to the construction of that East Long Beach icon is… well… just the tip of the pyramid.
Mike is entering his 13th year as a Professor of International Business and Executive Assistant to the President at CSULB. After the career he has had, this position - along with membership on more than 20 non-profit boards over the past decade - is considered winding down!
The numbers - both in dollar amounts and time - that Mike and Arline give back to those in need and/or seeking an education are stunning. As to why the Walters are so driven to help the less fortunate? Mike’s answer is simple, “They don’t know me, but I know them.”
By the standards of his hometown in Illinois, Mike’s childhood spent growing up with grandparents was relatively “well-off.” Thanks to his grandfather’s thriving garden, Mike generally had food to eat at night – a luxury that many families went without. His grandfather shared everything with neighbors in need. He also dipped into savings to provide a one-room City Hall for town use, because he felt strongly that everyone should have a place to cast their vote.
Arline’s mother and father showed similar generosity. Arline’s mother volunteered her time as choir director and financial secretary at their church while her father coached the town’s basketball team. Arline and twin sister Marilyn actively participated in many sports activities. It’s not surprising that Arline now volunteers as the choir director at Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown Long Beach and spends much of her time and money helping students and enjoying sports. For anyone who has never attended a Long Beach State basketball game, I urge you to go to the Pyramid this season. That die-hard fan in the front row excitedly waving the sign, “I Bleed Black and Gold?” That’s Arline.
Mike joined the United States army right out of high school, and soon attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. He has always felt a deep commitment to “Duty, Honor, Country.”
Belying the role of education in their lives, Mike and Arline met in a graduate math class at the University of Iowa, where Arline earned a Master of Science degree in mathematics. Upon receiving his Ph.D., Mike was hired by Rockwell Collins to teach engineers how to design computers and large communication networks. Arline began a career in information systems and the couple soon moved to Anaheim.
Though their jobs stationed them only 20 minutes from Long Beach, the Walters in the 1970s were not quite ready to settle down in the community they later learned to love. In fact, Mike accepted dual positions as Director of State Relations Planning and Director of Administrative Systems at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In stride as always, Arline was soon responsible for the University’s hospital and graduate school computing environments.
After four years in Michigan, Mike and Arline assumed positions with the DuPont Company in Wilmington, Delaware. At the time, DuPont had the second largest private switched telecommunications system in the world—second only to the United States Department of Defense. Mike managed DuPont’s computer systems around the world, becoming involved with international business and traveling extensively to major cities in Europe. By this time, the couple had two children – a son Lance and a daughter Angela. Family activities were treasured.
After seven years of impressive, groundbreaking work at DuPont, Mike was hired by Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco. This position may have been the most pivotal of his long, industrious, and fruitful career. Using his knowledge and experience in computer network systems, Mike positioned Levi Strauss as a leader in international business. As he proudly recalls, “The goal was to create a corporate office with no walls, all tied together with computer systems. Through accomplishing this goal, we effectively changed marketing, sales, management, finance, manufacturing cycles, and inventory. By integrating business processes across 22 countries - from the buying of materials, to blue jeans manufacturing, to sales - into one instantly updated private computer network, Levi Strauss was able to revolutionize its business, greatly reducing the time – from a month to overnight – that it took to place an order in one country, confirm it in a second, and manufacture in a third. Meanwhile, Arline began work for Wells Fargo, managing information systems and financial operations for some of its larger departments.
In 1983 the Haas family desired to take Levi Strauss & Co. private again and place family members in the top positions of the company. Their buy-out offer made it attractive for Mike to move on and become the Dean of Economics and Business Administration at Saint Mary’s College in Northern California. In 1993, Mike was offered the position as Dean of Business at CSULB. With their son just graduating from UC Berkeley and their daughter headed to Northwestern, it was once again an opportune time to move. Only this time, it would seem, the Walters have found a place they can live permanently. Their mark on this city began as soon as they arrived.
Long Beach State’s famous blue Pyramid was already under construction when Mike accepted his position; however, the college was struggling to raise the money to pay off its debts. University President Bob Maxson approached the Walters about making a lead donation, hoping to spark others to follow suit. The plan worked. The Walter’s leadership ignited donations from other friends of the University to a total of more than 5 million dollars. President Maxson then made the decision to name the structure the “Mike and Arline Walter Pyramid.”
When they moved here in 1993, Arline assumed a position at Union Bank similar to the role she had previously performed at Wells Fargo. She retired in 2005 to enjoy more time with her grandchildren. However, she hasn’t really slowed down. In addition to volunteering at her church, Arline is Vice President of Finance at the Assistance League in Long Beach and a key member on the Metropolitan Board of the YMCA of Greater Long Beach. She serves on the City’s Citizen’s Technical Advisory Committee. She is very involved with Long Beach State athletics and enjoys volunteering as a tutor at the University’s Bickerstaff Academic Center.
Mike has served as a Commissioner for the City’s Water Department, Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, a Harbor Commissioner for the Port of Long Beach, and Chairman of the Board of the California Conference for Equality and Justice (CCEJ). He currently serves as Chair of the St. Mary Medical Center Foundation. Everything he touches is associated in some way with creating jobs and improving educational opportunities in Long Beach.
Guiding the Walters through their blessed journey from Iowa to “Iowa by the Sea” (Long Beach) has been their strong faith in God.
It’s an amazing sight to spot the two walking through the Long Beach State campus and see how many times they are stopped by students and faculty for a hug or a chat. It seems everyone wants to thank them for their direct or indirect help and encouragement. The Walters actively listen and catch up on the lives of their greeters, because that is the nature of their personality. Mike’s emotion during this interview says it all. After I sat wide-eyed listening to his tales of advancement from the ground floor of the computer revolution to leading a major company into billions of dollars in international business, and his impressive record of service on business, municipal and education boards, he revealed that perhaps a recent achievement made him most proud: he was voted by the CSULB class of 2010 as a “Most Inspirational Professor.” After a lifetime of giving to others, this award caused a tear to roll down Mike’s cheek. Luckily Arline was by his side to help finish the interview.