Roxana and Bob Lorton
Many alumni and friends remain active in the life of TU, but few, if any, can claim the kind of lifelong connection that Roxana (BA '63) and Bob (BA '64) Lorton have cultivated over the decades – a partnership that begins with childhood memories and today finds the couple helping to lead the university's charge into the future.
Bob remembers attending the chilly January groundbreaking for TU's Lorton Hall, which was funded by his grandparents and completed in 1948. Roxana, the daughter of TU music professor Béla Rózsa, remembers a childhood home bustling with visiting musicians and intellectuals. Neither could have imagined at the time that they would go on to graduate from TU and become major donors, trustees, and co-chairs of the two most successful fundraising campaigns in TU history: the New Century Campaign (1993-98, $108 million) and the Embrace the Future Campaign (2006-11, $698 million).
Together, these two efforts raised more than $806 million for key university initiatives including campus expansion, endowed scholarships, faculty endowments and strategic program support. Many of the campaigns' larger gifts were finalized over meals in the Lortons' home – always hosted with trademark hospitality and irresistible excitement about TU's future.
Although their personal leadership made a profound difference in the success of the Embrace the Future Campaign, Bob and Roxana are quick to redirect credit elsewhere – beginning with TU itself.
"People will not give unless they feel good about whom they're giving to and what they're supporting," Bob said. "The outstanding response that we've seen has been a referendum on TU's impressive success over the past several years and the quality of the campaign's initiatives."
Those priorities fell into nearly even thirds: capital support for campus expansion, funds to endow scholarships and funds to endow faculty positions.
"Those goals weren't just pulled from the air," Roxana notes. "They were developed from the ground up, beginning with discussions at the departmental level and culminating in a comprehensive assessment of TU's strengths and aspirations by the administration and the Board of Trustees. I think our donors are very proud of what the university is achieving with their support."
The Lortons also give credit to the members of the Embrace the Future Campaign Cabinet – a great team of fellow trustees who fanned out to match specific needs with prospective donors and lay the groundwork for gifts.
"The cabinet members did yeoman's work," Bob said. "Their cultivation of partners was instrumental to the campaign's success."
Also pivotal was the leadership of TU President Steadman Upham, First Lady Peggy Upham, and Senior Vice President for Planning and Outreach Jan Zink, the Lortons said.
"Their ability to connect with people, listen, and build authentic relationships is vitally important," Bob said. "Without their leadership, TU never would have had the strong relationships that make success possible."
One of the campaign's major achievements carries special personal meaning for the couple: The Roxana Rózsa and Robert Eugene Lorton Performance Center was completed this spring and was dedicated with a gala event in September. With 77,000 square feet and more than 20 donor-sponsored elements that include labs, studios, classrooms and program offices, the Center brings unprecedented possibilities to TU's performing arts and film studies programs while enhancing the university's cultural outreach.
"It's going to be a fabulous asset for the university and the community," Bob said. "People are eager to see those elements come together. We're happy we had the opportunity to support TU's performing arts and help build on the university's longstanding partnership with Tulsa."
With their lead gift to the Lorton Performance Center, Bob and Roxana extended a family legacy of creative achievement and support of the arts. Bob's grandmother, Maud Lorton, was a prime mover in establishing the Tulsa Opera. Roxana's grandfather, Lajos Sandor Rózsa, was a leading baritone in Vienna and Budapest. The New York Metropolitan Opera brought the Rózsa family to the U.S. in 1921 – a move that Roxana credits with saving their lives from later atrocities in Europe.
Roxana's father, Béla Rózsa, graduated from Juilliard and played with the NBC Symphony Orchestra under the legendary Arturo Toscanini. He completed his doctorate at the University of Iowa and later joined the TU faculty, serving from 1945 to 1974 teaching, composing and directing the graduate music program and the Department of Music Theory.
With the TU campus a fixture of Roxana's everyday life growing up, it was natural for her to enroll at the university. She majored in journalism (with an art minor) and was a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and the Theta Sigma Phi honorary journalism society for women. As business manager of the Kendallabrum yearbook, she became frustrated with the slow pace of ad sales, bundled up the files and hit the streets to sell out the issue herself. She was named Outstanding Junior and Outstanding Senior.
Bob also majored in journalism, a natural fit with his family's ownership of the Tulsa World. In 1964, the year of his graduation from TU, Bob became director of the Newspaper Printing Corp., a joint-operating company for the Tulsa World and the Tulsa Tribune. In 1968, he became president of the Tulsa World and eventually re-acquired company shares that his grandfather, Eugene Lorton, had bequeathed outside the family. (Today, Bob and Roxana's son, Robert E. Lorton, III, serves as the paper's publisher and president.)
As one of Tulsa's connected couples, Bob and Roxana have served the community in a remarkable number of capacities. They have provided leadership and support for the Tulsa Area United Way, Gilcrease Museum, Philbrook Museum, the Oklahoma Heritage Association, the National Conference on Community and Justice, the Tulsa Metro Chamber, the Tulsa Port of Catoosa Authority, Tulsa Symphony Orchestra, Tulsa Opera, the National Council of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., the Kennedy Center National Symphony Orchestra and many other organizations.
Given the extent of their community commitments, TU is especially fortunate that Bob and Roxana devote time to serve on TU's Board of Trustees (a combined 41 years, in fact). Bob has chaired the Membership and Advancement committees and has served as a member of the Executive Committee and the committees on Finance, Buildings and Grounds, Investment and Audit, Faculty and Curriculum, and Athletics. Roxana has co-chaired the Membership Committee and has served on the committees for Advancement, Buildings and Grounds, and Faculty and Curriculum.
Bob and Roxana are members of The Circle Society (Circle of Visionaries) – TU's premier donor association – and the President's Council. For many years, they have been members of the McFarlin Fellows, Friends of Finance and the Golden Hurricane Club. The university recognized their many capital gifts in 2008 by naming Lorton Village in their honor; this market-grade residential development occupies a proud spot overlooking Chapman Commons as part of TU's Eleventh Street entrance.
Bob was inducted into the Collins College of Business Hall of Fame in 2000 and that same year was inducted into the Communication Hall of Fame sponsored by the Henry Kendall College of Arts and Sciences. He also received TU's J. Paschal Twyman Award honoring exceptional service (1996) and a TU Distinguished Alumnus Award (1988). Roxana was honored with a Distinguished Alumna Award in 2000, and she joined Bob in receiving the J. Paschal Twyman Award for service in 1996.
Looking back to the beginning of the Embrace the Future Campaign, Bob and Roxana recall an important stipulation that they made to TU President Steadman Upham and Senior Vice President for Planning and Outreach Jan Zink.
"We said the only way we would do the campaign is if we could have fun with it," Bob said, explaining that "the fun has come from the success that we've had, and also from the many stories along the way." As one example, they point to the alumnus living in Alaska, more or less under the TU fundraising radar, who responded to a routine mail solicitation with a surprise $1 million gift. As another example, Roxana happily notes that her childhood piano teacher contributed a gift to the campaign.
And while Bob admits surprise that the campaign surpassed its goal by 75 percent during a recessionary economy, he says he is not surprised by the widespread support that TU has received from both alumni and non alumni donors.
"Anywhere you find a successful community, you find a strong college or university," he said. "People understand that TU is serving an important role in helping prepare students for good, successful careers and a lifetime of service. It has been deeply gratifying to see so many people step forward to support that mission."
"I think the stars were all in line to make this happen," Roxana added. "The future is so bright."