Ernest “Ernie” C. Trefz, a longtime member of the University of Bridgeport’s Board of Trustees whose decades of wise counsel and unwavering generosity were instrumental in guiding UB from financial turbulence to become a robust center of academic excellence and entrepreneurship, died on Saturday, February 25.
He was 84.
Mr. Trefz served continuously as a member of the Board of Trustees since 1980.
It would be difficult to envision a more challenging time for Mr. Trefz to begin his tenure. Within the decade, a series of regional recessions would batter cities, institutions, and various sectors throughout the northeast. The city of Bridgeport, which filed for bankruptcy in 1991, and the University were not immune from the financial turbulence of the time, but Mr. Trefz’s steadying presence on the Board of Trustees proved to be critically important as UB reversed course, said UB President Neil Salonen.
“While many industry leaders and others stepped away, Ernie never wavered with his commitment to the city and the institutions within the city,” said President Salonen. “His intent was always for the good of the University and the city, and we have benefitted enormously because of it. UB, like so many others in the Bridgeport region, will miss his leadership and his ceaseless loyalty.”
Today, the University’s enrollment tops 5,700 students, the highest level in 30 years. More than $86.5 million in capital improvements have helped to transform the campus in the past decade, and new programs, including many championed by Mr. Trefz, are thriving.
In 2014, thanks to Mr. Trefz’s generosity and vision, UB opened the Ernest C. Trefz School of Business, announcing that the curriculum would place greater emphasis on entrepreneurship. Gleaming classrooms, lecture halls, and state-of-the-art technologies all support new online MBA business courses as well as additional concentrations in the MBA program. The school has also hired faculty from industry to serve as “entrepreneurs in residence” and opened the Student Entrepreneur Center, also funded by Mr. Trefz, in the fall of 2015.
The business school’s new focus reflects the impressive arc of Mr. Trefz’s life.
The son of German immigrants, Mr. Trefz grew up helping his father deliver meat and cold cuts to family-run stores in Bridgeport. Though he could not afford to go to college himself, he nonetheless parlayed his work experience, customer-service savvy, and entrepreneurial drive to open the state’s first McDonald’s restaurant, eventually becoming one of the region’s most important business moguls and philanthropists.
Always aware of his humble beginnings, Mr. Trefz made sure to speak to students when he came to campus, often sharing his life story to encourage them as they pursued their own dreams.
“I’m honored and honestly humbled that the UB business school will carry my name,” Mr. Trefz told Governor Dannel P. Malloy and other dignitaries at the business school’s official groundbreaking ceremony on November 20, 2013. “I will be here to support the school and its mission in every way I can.”
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