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Eyes on the Prize

November 08, 2019 - 5 minute read

Paul and Cathy Schroeder waving

Paul Schroeder started his career as an engineer working on missiles and air-to-air systems. His wife Cathy found a side career as a line judge at the U.S. Open and other tennis tournaments. As longtime, generous supporters of Concordia, the Schroeders today co-chair the Forward in Faith campaign, serving in leadership at the university as they have since 1978. 

“Between the Board of Regents and the Board of Trustees, no one has been a board member at Concordia Irvine as long, and served as faithfully well, as Paul,” says Tim Jaeger. “He has brought his commitment as a church man and his business and financial acumen to Concordia. His wife Cathy is a joy. Their faithful support through the many years has been transformative, and I can’t imagine a major Concordia activity or event without Paul and Cathy Schroeder.”

Paul grew up in Southern California, and Cathy moved from Kansas City, Missouri, at age 10. She and Paul met at Emmaus Lutheran Church where he was serving as an usher. 

“I was there with a friend of mine, sitting on the aisle,” Cathy recalls. “Paul came down with a collection plate. I looked up at him and said in my head, ‘I’m going to marry you.’ The good Lord put him in my life.” 

They were married two years later. Paul attended USC for his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and his MBA, and met Charles Manske, the Lutheran campus pastor there who had a dream to build a Lutheran college in Southern California. After working a while in the aerospace industry, mostly on missile systems and avionics, Paul and his brother started buying apartment buildings in Orange County in 1970, as open land and cattle grazing pastures were being transformed into housing. 

“We saw the growth in the county and that it was a good place to own real estate,” Paul says. 

By 1976 he was making more money in real estate than as a project manager at Thompson Ramo Woolridge (TRW). 

“I kind of missed engineering, which I found very interesting, but from a business standpoint real estate was much more profitable,” Paul says. 

After he and Cathy moved to Newport Beach, a family friend, Ray Grimm Sr., one of the founding supporters of Christ College Irvine, invited Paul to the dedication of Founders Hall. Soon after, Ray showed up at Paul’s office in Santa Ana and said, “We’d like to get some younger guys on the Board of Trustees. Would you consider it?” Paul agreed to give it some thought. A week later, before he could reply, he got a letter from Charles Manske’s secretary, LaVeda Carter, (Manske was then Concordia’s founding president) that read, “Dear Paul, Thanks for joining the board of trustees. Your first meeting is…” 

“That’s how people get involved with trustees and things,” Paul says with a laugh. “There were 250 students, roughly. They put me onto the building committee and I served as one of four laymen who would get together to review the building plans and go through the invoices for that month to approve them.” Paul also serves as congregational President of Christ Lutheran Church in Costa Mesa. 

Center Court

Meanwhile, Cathy had found a surprise side job as a U.S. Tennis Association umpire, and worked the U.S. Open with the likes of Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. Connors yelled at her one time, and she saw McEnroe fling sawdust at a mouthy fan. 

Her path toward center court began when she and Paul joined a tennis club in Irvine and attended a tournament. 

“I saw some of the little old men they had out there and it was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, can they see?’” Cathy remembers. 

When the club asked for volunteer judges, Cathy responded and ended up joining the tennis umpires association in L.A. 

“I was blessed with good eyesight,” she says. 

The students we are helping educate today will be leaders in the community and church in coming generations.

So good that she was invited to serve at the U.S. Open in Queens, New York, for five years. Fewer and fewer umpires advanced to each round, and Cathy found herself in some of the top matches. 

“The first year, I was paid $35 a day, and food,” she says. “We had no lounge or bathrooms but had to use public bathrooms. That’s a big deal, especially for us women. We paid a bathroom attendant to let us go to the front of the line because we only had half an hour for lunch.” 

She served on the service line, base line and side line, plus the net, but liked the side line best. 

“You can’t stare at the line because you’ll go crazy,” she says. “You watch the person who is serving but you cannot follow the ball all the way. You follow it to the net and then set your eyes to the back of the line you’re in charge of.” 

She and other umpires would laugh privately when observers got angry about a call. 

“It was usually the guy in the uppermost tier furthest from line that was unhappy with the call,” she says. 

Eyesight was critical, and umpires had to pass annual eye tests and thoroughly know the rules of tennis. After twenty years, Cathy retired from line judging. 

“I wanted to be around for my daughter,” she says. “I said I can be a good mother or a good umpire. I cannot be both, so I stopped the year our daughter was born.” 

Growing Into Giving

Paul says the blessing he experienced in real estate allowed them to give more away than if he had remained an engineer. 

“I grew into giving,” he says. “Helping support the Lord’s work is very pleasurable. I get a lot of joy out of it.” 

“It’s very fulfilling,” Cathy agrees. “We have watched the University grow bigger and bigger. I never dreamed of it being this nice, and being able to have something like the state-of-the-art Borland-Manske Center. When we took the tour, it just blew my mind that we have that kind of facility, that professionals come to use. To see the fulfillment of something like that is like, ‘Thank you, God, that you are showing the way here.” 

During Paul’s time serving as the chairman of the endowment committee for the board of trustees, the endowment has grown from $6 to $35 million, with a goal “to get it closer to $80 to $100 million,” Paul says. The trustees govern the University’s Foundation which is the philanthropic arm of the institution. Part of the current capital campaign is to increase money for scholarships through endowments. 

The Schroeders see their commitment to Concordia “as an outgrowth of their commitment to the broader church,” says Jaeger. 

Cathy now runs one of their businesses, Schroeder Farms, which breeds thoroughbred horses for professional racing. Last year they produced the top-earning two-year-old filly in California. They also co-own the Lighthouse Bay View Cafe on the Balboa Peninsula. Cathy participates regularly in Concordia’s Eagle Golf Classic. Cathy is also on the board of Cross Connect Ministries. Their daughter, Anne Schroeder, was a west coast champion equestrian as a teenager, and now performs in musical theater for a living, including in a principal role in “Footloose” on a massive Norwegian Cruise Line ship. 

It is fitting that the theater lobby at CUI is named in honor of Paul and Cathy, in recognition of their generosity. 

“We like to support Concordia with various capital campaigns. It gives me pleasure,” Paul says. “Talk about long-term investments. The students we are helping educate today will be leaders in the community and church in coming generations.”

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