In 1965, a $500 donation could net you “founders” status when plans for a state university in Miami became reality.
Theodore “Ted” Spak took up the challenge and wrote a $500 check to help establish Florida International University on the site of the original Tamiami Airport, seven years before it would open its doors to its first students.
At the time, a successful attorney and CPA, Spak had already made substantial contributions to his alma mater, Chicago’s Northwestern University School of Law. The FIU gift was really more of a nod to a dear friend, accounting executive Albert Morrison Jr., Spak’s son Robert said.
Morrison was persistent — “There’s this new school we want to bring to the south part of the state and Ted, you’ll be a founder whether you like it or not.”
Spak, president of Theodore Spak and Associates, a firm of insurance adjusters and appraisers, was charmed by Morrison’s badgering. “Just to get you off my back, here’s the $500.”
Thus began a love affair with FIU that endured for the rest of Spak’s life.
Spak died of kidney and congestive heart failure at age 83 at his home in Coral Gables on Jan. 20.
“Ted will be greatly missed and remembered for his tremendous contributions and the legacy of his leadership,” Howard Lipman, chief executive officer of the FIU Foundation said in a letter to its board of directors. Spak served on that board for 25 years. “His passion and his commitment to bettering his community live on.”
In 2013, Spak and his family endowed the FIU College of Law with $1.2 million — then, the college’s largest non-matching gift. Spak remarked at the time, “It is our pleasure and privilege to contribute to the success of some very deserving law students.”
The gift helped support the Theodore and Rosalind Spak Scholarship Endowment the couple established in 1997.
Ted had a vision for FIU very early on. The Spaks’ many contributions of time and treasure have helped us advance our students’ educational experience.
FIU President Mark Rosenberg in a school newsletter when the Spak family donated $1.2 million to the College of Law
“My father had such a strong feeling for the law that he went to the powers that be at FIU and said, ‘We have to bring a law school to FIU’ and he was instrumental in being on the committee to get that task done,” Robert Spak said.
Spak’s quarter century on the FIU Foundation Board, where he served as its director before being named an Emeritus Director in 2010, included many endowments and firsts. He helped build the presidential house, was instrumental in founding the FIU football program, along with the medical and law schools. He established the Albert Morrison Jr. Scholarship Endowment for accounting students and donated artwork to the Frost Art Museum.
Spak, who began his professional career as a credit analyst for First National Bank of Chicago in 1952, was also on the Florida Grand Opera board and a trustee of Beth David Congregation. He was an early donor to the University of Miami’s medical school.
“This is a man who, when he saw something good, he thrived on being able to expand on that good and that’s why I say my father was all heart from head to toe,” his son said.
But Spak, born in Chicago, on April 22, 1932, a stickler for getting it right and details-oriented, could play, too, his son said. He shared some emails he received from his father’s friends.
Coral Gables attorney Norman Sevin recalled their days together as law students and buddies at Northwestern in the early 1950s in one of those letters. “Ted was an avid ping pong player and I recall he and I skipping classes at NU on some afternoons because the class schedule interfered with our lunchtime ping pong games.”
He had such a passion for bridge he served as president of the Coral Gables Friendship Club to promote the card game in the city. “To say he was a tough competitor may be an understatement, but he had a huge and generous heart and helped the club in more ways than just his presence and leadership,” said Richard DeQuattro in a letter to the Spak family.
Spak loved Christy’s Restaurant in Coral Gables, too. Sat in the same Oak Room and served by the same waiter every time. Baked Alaska, a must. “My father would have foregone the entree as long as he could have ordered the Baked Alaska. He didn’t like the ice cream, he just wanted the meringue,” his son said.
He also pored through the Sunday newspaper for coupons and, tapping his analytical mind, compiled a list of prices from Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s Club, made comparisons, and set out on his shopping expedition, buying not one or two of the items, but sometimes 20 or 30. This was his only day off from bridge, he’d explain, adding, “If this is a good deal then I’ve got to buy plenty because I don’t know when it would go on sale again.”
Said his son, chuckling: “That was Ted Spak!”
Spak is survived by his wife of 31 years, Rosalind Spak, his children Marcee Spak Albertario, Robert Spak, Melissa Slocum, Joseph Pallot, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Services will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday at Beth David Congregation, 2625 SW Third Ave., Miami.