The Story of Drs. Ted and Lola Rozsa
Updated: Mar 30, 2021
The Rozsa Foundation was formed in 1990 by Drs. Ted and Lola Rozsa, and they were very active in the foundation in its early years. However, with Ted’s passing in 2006, and Lola’s six years later in 2012, many members of our current community may not have had the pleasure of knowing these two incredible people. To honour their important work on the foundation’s 30th anniversary, and perhaps introduce them to some of our readers, we want to tell the story of the Rozsas.
Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1915, Ted grew up learning to read by lantern light, as their home had no electricity. His father had arrived from Hungary to Ellis island with nothing, but had built a barber shop business in Michigan, and expected great things of his children. Ted did not disappoint, finishing top of his class and gaining a scholarship to Michigan Tech. Ever the pragmatist, Ted realized that the only way to cover his living expenses would be to complete his four year degree in 2 and a half years, and so he did, with the highest honours. He was immediately hired by the Shell Corporation, where he quickly learned the trade of seismic exploration.
Lola was born in 1920 in Hobart Oklahoma to a preacher (lovingly referred to in her memoir as Preacher) and Nannie, his wife, as the youngest of seven children. Her father ministered where he was called, and by the age of 19, Lola had lived in seven different towns throughout Oklahoma, Missouri, and Texas. By then, she has also survived typhoid, cyclones, dust storms, and the Depression.
Ted and Lola’s paths crossed in Texas in 1939, when Lola’s sister and her husband invited him and some others for a bridge game. In her memoir My Name is Lola, Lola describes him as “the spitting image of Errol Flynn” and “drop-dead gorgeous.” They were married within a few weeks, just in time to relocate to Oklahoma for Ted’s job. Their stay in Oklahoma lasted a grand total of two months, before Shell sent them off to Kansas. And on it went, with Lola and Ted relocating 18 times in 10 years. Calgary was their 19th city together, and it seemed so far from their current home in Baton Rouge Louisiana, that Lola wasn’t sure that planes even flew there. When she arrived in Calgary in 1949, Lola had moved a total of 40 times! She recounts that the best advice her mother ever gave her was to become involved “in a helpful way in whatever community we happened to land.” This impact of this advice continues to be felt by the arts sector in Calgary.
In 1950, one year after relocating to Calgary to assume the position of chief geophysicist for Shell Canada, Ted left Shell to start his own company, Frontier Geophysical. Over the next forty years, Ted utilized his considerable skills as a geophysicist and geological engineer to build three petroleum exploration companies in southern Alberta. For these accomplishments, in 1987, he was awarded the first Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists (CSEG) gold medal for his integrity, outstanding professionalism, and significant contribution to the application and business development of Exploration Geophysics.
Since Lola had always sung in a church choir with her family growing up, she immediately joined the Chancel Choir in her new church home, Grace Presbyterian Church, and stayed a faithful member for thirty-two years. She was also active in Mac 14 Theatre (now known as Theatre Calgary) and performed with the American Women's Club. Ted, meanwhile had begun to develop a life-long obsession with classical music in New Orleans, and became extremely engaged with the Calgary Philharmonic, including contributing the funds required to bring Maestro Mario Bernardi to lead the orchestra and endowing the Maestro’s Chair.
In 1955, Lola became one of the founding members, and later president, of the Calgary Philharmonic Society Women's League, where she helped create the school children's concerts and the Benny the Bookworm fund raiser. The CPO’s February children’s concert continues to be dedicated to Dr. Lola Rozsa.
Their involvement in the Calgary arts community continued to grow, and they donated both money and time to the Calgary Philharmonic, the Banff Centre for the Performing Arts, the Glenbow Museum, Calgary Opera, Honens Festival and Competition, Theatre Calgary and many other causes. Seeing music students at the University of Calgary rehearsing in stairwells for lack of a proper space helped propel Lola and Ted to contribute to building the Rozsa Centre at the University of Calgary, as well as the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts at Michigan Tech. At the University of Calgary, although the venue bears their surname, The Rozsa Centre is informally known as "Lola's Place".
Both have been honoured for their incredible volunteer work and contributions many times. Lola was listed in the The World's Who's Who of Women in 1998. She was named a Woman of Distinction in 2001, and received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Calgary in 2002. In 2008, The Golf Association of Alberta presented Lola with a Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1990, Ted received an Honorary Doctor of Engineering from Michigan Technological University and an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Calgary. In 1991, he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada, of which he was most proud. Other honors he received include the Michigan Technological University Silver Medal (1988), the Canadian Music Council Award (1989), the Government of Canada Lescarbot Award (1991), Rotary Integrity Award (1994), Edmund C. Bovey Award for Business and the Arts (2002), Lieutenant Governor Award (2004), Alberta Centennial Medal (2005).
In 1990, contemplating a future beyond the two of them, Ted decided to create a foundation to manage their endowments, a foundation which quickly grew into a much more substantial support for the arts community in Calgary. Ted and Lola’s many years working with various arts companies had shown them a level of dedication and commitment from administrators that astounded them. In Lola’s words, they “discovered that the not-for-profit world is largely peopled by those who have enormous passion for their particular causes. They work tirelessly to advance those initiatives in creative and engaging ways. Most exist on shoestring budgets, ploughing 90 per cent of their limited funding dollars back into running their programs rather than squandering them on additional staff that might lighten their workload. Ted would likely say that the corporate world is justly humbled by the non-profits’ commitment to make life better, brighter, and more accessible to all of us.”
However, they also realized that most of these arts leaders were running their organizations with no business, human resources, accounting, or management education or experience. Ted, having started and successfully grown several companies, realized that pairing a sharp understanding of business with this passion would ultimately strengthen each company and the arts sector as a whole. With the prize money from the Edward C. Bovey prize, Ted established the Rozsa Award for Excellence in Arts Management as a further way of underscoring the importance of savvy arts management in the success of an arts organization.
After seeing the completion of the Rozsa Centre in Calgary and the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts in Michigan, as well as the success of the Arts Management Award and the Rozsa Foundation, Ted Rozsa passed away in 2006. Lola continued to remain involved in the foundation for another six years until she passed away in 2012. In 2013, her memoir, My Name is Lola, written with Susie Sparks, was released and became a best-seller.
These two extraordinary people have managed to make a dramatic difference in the lives of Calgarians through their tireless support of the arts and through their Rozsa Foundation. However, Lola felt that this was an even transaction. In her words: “When we were ultimately able to contribute to the music faculty at the university, we were only passing along our appreciation for the gifts we had received. Our offering back to the community could never match the value of those rewards or the priceless gifts of friendship we have been offered across Calgary and the opportunities we have been afforded through their generosity.”