Des Moines business leader Marvin Pomerantz passed away yesterday. You can read the Des Moines Register’s obituary here.
My family is acquainted with the Pomerantz family, and while I never shared Marvin’s politics (he was an influential supporter of the Iowa Republican Party), I had tremendous respect for his accomplishments. He was raised in poverty in an immigrant family and became one of the most successful self-made businessmen in this state’s history.
But he never pretended he did it all without any help. He gave credit to public education and gave a lot back in time and money to the University of Iowa and higher education in Iowa generally. Pomerantz liked getting his way and ruffled some feathers (including when he chaired the Board of Regents). In fact, I used to joke that a place I’d never want to be is between Marvin Pomerantz and something he wants. I didn’t agree with him on the particulars of education reform.
But unlike some conservatives, he did not try to demonize public education or starve it of funds. Reasonable minds can differ about the local-option sales tax to fund school infrastructure, but there weren’t too many prominent conservatives who supported it as Marvin did.
This was a key passage of the obituary:
Pomerantz continued to push for educational reforms, serving on a variety of state and local boards, becoming a point man and lightning rod for efforts to tie teachers’ pay to performance.
During an interview in 2005, he said his passion for education stemmed from the fact that it moved his family from immigrant status to being successful business owners.
“My dad and my mom always emphasized that I would go to college no matter what, and it made a tremendous difference in my life,” he said.
“I was a marginal kid. I went to the University of Iowa, and I got an education that gave me the tools to work with to create a wonderful life,” he said. “I was a good student at Iowa, but I was a poor student before I got to Iowa.”
Marvin is a perfect example of why we need to keep high-quality public education accessible to people of all backgrounds. When he entered the University of Iowa, he was a mediocre student from a poor family. No one could have imagined that he would become wealthy enough to donate millions of dollars to the university and raise millions more. But his instructors gave him many of the tools he needed to succeed in business.
May he rest in peace.
UPDATE: T.M Lindsey posted a good piece on Pomerantz at Iowa Independent.