Rubin Sharpe, '35
Rubin Sharpe enjoys pointing out that he and Robert Maynard Hutchins arrived at the University of Chicago at the same time: “He was the incoming president, and I was a fifteen-year-old freshman,” he says.
That was in 1929. Six years later, Sharpe had graduated from the college and earned his degree from the Law School. “There were giants walking the Law School’s hallways back then, and there still are today,” he says. “We had Hinton and Bigelow and Katz, to name just three. Today you also have so many phenomenal minds there. I was fortunate enough to have the faculty geniuses of my day teach me how to think, how to really analyze a situation, and how to turn ideas into action. That has benefited me in everything I’ve done since.”
Everything Rubin Sharpe has done in the 72 years since he graduated from the Law School could fill a book. Very little of it involved practicing law. He adjudicated claims for the Office of Price Administration during the Depression. He served in the Navy during the Second World War, in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. After he returned, the owner of the world’s largest Chevrolet dealership, based in Chicago, saw business acumen in him and eventually placed him in charge of dealerships in Chicago and then in Milwaukee. He worked as a real estate broker, then with a developer of commercial and industrial properties, and then as a manager of residential properties from one end of the Midwest to the other.
When it came time for him to retire, at 70, he was having none of that. “No way was I going to sit around just doing nothing!” he says. He volunteered at the Milwaukee office of SCORE – the Service Corps of Retired Executives – and he’s been there ever since, putting in at least three days every week helping guide entrepreneurs through the challenges of building successful businesses. “There are no dumb people,” he says, “only people who lack information. We give them the information they need to make sound decisions.”
“I encourage all alumni to consider volunteering at SCORE,” he urges. “It’s satisfying and fulfilling work. You can use all the smarts you gathered at the Law School while you help worthy people achieve their dreams. ”
In his spare time he does carpentry, reads, cooks (including what he describes as “a mean turkey chili”), and enjoys an appreciation for art that he has recently developed through his close friend Joan Barnett. He relishes time with his family, whose accomplishments he proudly details. His daughter is executive director of the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, her husband is an accomplished lawyer, and their two children both have carved out careers in music, one as an internationally-recognized concert violist and one as an award-winning trombonist and the head of an organization that brings Jewish music to Milwaukee audiences. The daughter of his late son has designed museum exhibits throughout the country and his widow is a successful landscape architect. “I’m so proud of them all, and so blessed that they are part of my life,” he says.
A few years back Sharpe wrote to the class notes section of this magazine saying that he had completed his four hundredth semi-monthly workshop on business financing at SCORE and that he had his sights set on doing a hundred more.
He later accomplished that goal, but through an editing error here at The Record, the word “semi-monthly” in his message was changed to “semi-annual” when it was published. He laughs heartily as he recounts that story, saying “I’d have had to live another fifty years to do it at that rate!” To anyone who has taken the measure of Rubin Sharpe, heard that laugh, observed his zest for life, listened to the wisdom in his conversation, or seen the love of family in his eyes, another fifty good years just doesn’t seem nearly as implausible as it sounds.