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Friday, March 31, 2023

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The "S" symbol appears on Cowles Mountain with the San Carlos neighborhood below. (Credit: SDSU Special Collections and University Archives) The "S" symbol appears on Cowles Mountain with the San Carlos neighborhood below. (Credit: SDSU Special Collections and University Archives)

Views of “S” Mountain Stoke Memories for ’51 Aztec

Stuart Naliboff’s fond recollections led to a gift to the President’s Leadership Fund.
By Coleen L. Geraghty

“Stuart truly is an Aztec for Life. We appreciate his decades-long support for the university.”

The view of Cowles Mountain from Stuart Naliboff’s front porch reminds him of his student days at San Diego State University (then College).  

Those were the post-war years, and Naliboff remembers helping to reclaim the mountain for San Diego State by restoring the giant “S” that had been camouflaged to protect San Diego from potential Japanese bombing. That “S” gave Cowles its adopted name, “S” Mountain, as it was known by Aztecs.

When Naliboff graduated with an accounting degree in 1951, San Diego State’s campus on Montezuma Mesa was a mere 20 years old, and the land surrounding “S” Mountain remained largely undeveloped. He left San Diego to join the Air Force, worked in the Bay Area, married Ellen, a speech pathologist, and had two boys. It would be nearly two decades before he returned “home.” 

“I was amazed when I saw all the development between my house and the mountain,” he said. 

Back in San Diego Naliboff joined Ratner Clothing, which specialized in producing naval uniforms and officers’ caps during World War II. When the market for those items shrunk, Ratner developed the infamous leisure suit from synthetic polyester fabrics that were revolutionizing the clothing industry. 

Naliboff eventually became company controller. His ties to SDSU grew stronger as his sons, Greg (’80) and Alec (’83), became students in the Fowler College of Business and the family regularly attended Aztec football games. He joined SDSU Alumni as a lifetime member and made small but consistent donations over the years. 

It wasn’t until a few years ago, when Naliboff became friends with alumnus Keith Behner that the 1951 graduate began to consider making a larger gift to his alma mater. Naliboff learned that Behner (’71), together with his wife, Catherine Stiefel (’92), was a major supporter of SDSU. Four years ago, the couple created SDSU’s Program on Brazil, which has ambitions to become a national leader in Brazilian studies. 

“Keith told me, ‘There are good things going on at State,’ and I signed up for a tour,” said Naliboff. “I was impressed by the new buildings, the smart classrooms and the creative inventions coming out of Zahn" (the Zahn Innovation Platform, an entrepreneurial hub on campus).

Naliboff’s gift to the President’s Leadership Fund gives the SDSU president discretion to apply funds where they are needed most.

“Stuart truly is an Aztec for Life,” said Mary Ruth Carleton, vice president for University Relations and Development. “We appreciate his decades-long support for the university.”

Naliboff’s generosity is also an expression of gratitude to former San Diego State professors John Ackley and Paul Pfaff, whose mentoring increased the self-confidence of dozens of students.  

“If you had talent, they knew how to encourage it,” he said.

Today, when Naliboff looks at “S” Mountain from his front porch, he has the satisfaction of knowing SDSU remains a big part of his life.