Dr. David Falk, who died recently at 106, never forgot that when he was out of money during his junior year in 1938, Union found a way. For his part, Falk always found a way to return the favor, giving millions to his alma mater.
Falk, a retired urologist in Bakersfield, Calif., is believed to have been Union’s oldest alumnus.
“The College could have told me, ‘Well, no tuition, no classes,’” Falk said in a 2008 interview. “They didn’t do that. They made a deal with me where I could finish out my school year and pay them back as I could, which I did. That was very impressive to me. I feel that if I can help students who were feeling financial pressure, I should do so.”
Like many during the Great Depression, Falk took whatever work he could find: deliveryman, truck driver, night watchman. That, along with financial aid, was enough to keep him afloat through Union.
The generosity of Falk and his late wife, Elynor, has totaled about $3.5 million. It has included the David and Elynor Falk Endowed Scholarship for majors in biology and the David Falk ’39 and Elynor Rudnick-Falk Professorship in Engineering. He was a regular donor to the Annual Fund and a member of the Ramée Circle planned giving society. In 1975, he donated a harpsichord in memory of a mentor, Elmer Tidmarsh, professor of music.
A native of East Nassau who commuted to Union from his family home in Albany, he earned his Union degree in chemistry. He was junior class marshal. He received the Richmond Prize in Music Appreciation and the Fuller Medical Scholarship for study at Albany Medical College, where he earned his M.D. degree in 1943.
His generosity has extended to Albany Med, where he has created endowed chairs and scholarships for Union graduates.
While serving in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during World War II, he was in a convoy en route to Japan when the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs. Falk’s ship was redirected to New York City, leaving him with a major decision: return to New York’s Capital Region for another winter or try California.
He chose the latter and never looked back. “The sun was blazing and the temperature was 86,” he said. “I took off my overcoat and never put it back on again. I said, ‘I am never leaving here.’”
In 1950 he settled in Bakersfield, Calif., where he went into private practice and became chief of the department of urology at Kern County General Hospital.
It was in Bakersfield that he met his wife and married in 1962.
The former Elynor Rudnick, an alumna of UCLA, was a helicopter service owner and pilot who was trained to ferry airplanes for the military in World War II. She was one of the first to use helicopters for spraying crops. In 1947, she trained a contingent of student pilots who would later become the first members of the fledgling Israeli Air Force. She was also active in managing an extensive portfolio of family farms in southern California, perhaps most notably a date farm in Coachella Valley. She passed away in 1996.
True to his word, Falk stayed mostly in sunny California. Records show only two campus visits in the early 90s. But gift officers and presidents have visited him in California. Following a visit with Falk in 1974, Union President Harold Martin wrote, “It’s clear that western air and marriage to a vigorous woman have given you the entrepreneurial spirit.”
When Cherrice Traver, the David Falk and Elynor Rudnick-Falk Professor of Computer Engineering, visited the benefactor in 2011, he was spending time at his local library studying up on the development of transistors and electronics. He spoke proudly of his wife’s business acumen and tutored the professor on the process of raising and harvesting dates. He later sent her a box of Medjool dates. “I am not surprised that he lived to be 106,” Traver said. “He was clearly still enjoying life very much at 97.”
Throughout his life, he never forgot to pay it forward.
“Those who preceded me at Union, through their understanding and generosity, provided the opportunity for my education,” he said. “I am deeply grateful. It is my duty, in like manner, to provide for our future. It is payback time.”