Rowland Rebele, a publisher and philanthropist who wanted to give away all of his money before he passed away, died Saturday at the age of 93.
“Reb,” as he liked to be called, served in the U.S. Navy and attended Stanford University before embarking on a career as a newspaper owner, mostly in California with business partner Lowell Blankfort. They sold them off one by one at a time when print publications were far more valuable than they are today.
Born in San Francisco, he lived his later years in Aptos, where he supported civic causes throughout Santa Cruz, including UC Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Symphony, Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, Santa Cruz Shakespeare and most important to him, the downtown homeless shelter, named the Rebele Family Shelter.
He also funded journalism training at Cabrillo College and Stanford University, where he regularly met with students studying and working in the field. He was a leading donor to the California First Amendment Coalition, a group that promotes a free press and freedom of expression.
Reb regularly told the students that his goal was to give away his money before he died. But his efforts weren’t limited to financial help. He regularly worked on the census of the local unhoused community, climbing down hillsides and along river banks to interview the people living there, even in his 80s.
His health deteriorated in later years, but not his vigor, intelligence or wicked sense of humor. He remained devoted to his college sweetheart, Patricia, who helped with managing the newspapers’ financial operations.
“Reb and his wife Patricia were completely devoted to each other, and together they supported numerous non-profit organizations,” wrote the Santa Cruz Symphony in an email. “They were present for nearly all our concerts and special events. Reb was typically the first to stand for an ovation and could be heard yelling bravo at most concerts.”
Rebele and Blankfort purchased the Chula Vista Star News in 1961 and sold it to Hart Hanks Corporation, remaining there until 1978. He later owned newspapers in Butte County, California.
He acknowledged that publishing was a controversial industry. “We did have animosities because of our stand-taking journalism,” he told Metro Santa Cruz in 1999. “In our news columns, we tried to be fair and objective because that’s the role of a paper in part. It’s also the purpose of a paper to raise hell.”
Rebele helped kickstart the news organization that ended up owning Good Times. “I met him after I graduated from UC Santa Cruz and was starting the Los Gatos Weekly,” Good Times Publisher Dan Pulcrano said. “I visited him at his Aptos home and pitched him on investing. He pulled out a black binder, wrote a check for $500 and handed it to me. Those first dollars were the catalyst for starting a company, and everything that came after that.
“His Paradise Post printed our newspapers for a number of years, and his generosity in supporting the public’s right to know, local culture and housing for the community’s most vulnerable members was truly singular. He was one of a kind.”