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An unassuming couple's rich legacy

Robert and Adrienne Westerbeck lived modestly in their Pasadena home for more than 50 years. After their deaths, neighbors learned they had assets worth more than $8 million. The couple left it all to their alma maters.

May 16, 2011|By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times
  • Adrienne and Robert Westerbeck lived modestly in their Pasadena home for more than 50 years. It was only after their deaths that neighbors made a startling discovery: Bob and Addie, who were childless, had amassed assets worth more than $8 million. They left it all to their alma maters: Pasadena City College and USC.
Adrienne and Robert Westerbeck lived modestly in their Pasadena home for… (Pasadena City College )

Robert and Adrienne Westerbeck were mainstays in their Pasadena neighborhood.

Bob was a Pasadena City College graduate and retired engineer whose friends called him Dr. Doolittle because of his affinity for animals. Addie, who earned three degrees from USC, was a music teacher who would leave the front door open so neighbors could enjoy her playing the piano.

They were an active couple who lived modestly in their El Encanto Drive home for more than 50 years, until Bob passed away at 89 in 2006 and Addie at 103 last year.

It was only after their deaths that neighbors made a startling discovery: Bob and Addie, who were childless, had assets worth more than $8 million. They left it all to their alma maters.

Pasadena City College announced May 3 that it had received $4 million — the largest single donation in the school's 87-year history — to establish the Robert Westerbeck Scholarship Endowment. USC's Thornton School of Music confirmed Friday that it will establish, with another $4-million bequest, the Adrienne Westerbeck Endowed Music Scholarship.

"It was a complete surprise to us when this all came out," said Don Anderson, a Pasadena City College Foundation board member who knew the couple for decades. "It's like the story you hear about the little old lady who bought some forgotten stocks and dies a pauper, but then it turns out they were worth millions. I liken them to that."

How they amassed such wealth is something of a mystery. One or the other may have been left a nest egg by a relative, said Hermina Allen, a longtime neighbor who is trustee of the Westerbeck Family Trust. In addition, Addie's first husband was a successful broker who may have left her well off when he died, Allen said.

The Westerbecks also seem to have invested wisely. Allen found papers that included meticulous lists of what to buy and sell.

"They never discussed it," Allen said. "They were very frugal. They came from a generation that didn't showcase their wealth."

They enjoyed traveling when they were younger and were active at local community centers. But their lives were unpretentious, especially as they grew older.

"They were very independent," Anderson said. "They didn't buy anything or do anything major for themselves. When the heater in their home broke down, they didn't replace it and lived pretty much in one room toward the end. That's another reason we were surprised, because we felt they could have used some of that money on themselves in later years."

Robert Westerbeck was born in 1917 and was an only child, Allen said. He graduated in 1936 from what was then Pasadena Junior College and worked as an engineer for Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank and later for another local engineering firm. He loved to tell jokes and was tall and athletic, playing varsity basketball in school and taking up archery, golf and cycling.

Bob was approaching middle age when he decided to take private piano lessons from Addie, and that's when he fell in love, their friends said.

Born in New York in 1906, Adrienne Zick lived in Colorado as a child before her family moved to California. At USC, she earned bachelor's and master's degrees in music as well as a master's in education. She taught music at Pasadena City College until her retirement in 1971.

Strong-willed and independent, she earned a salary as the organist for the Christian Science Church in Los Feliz until shortly before her death.

Church member Connie Stamos helped Addie in her final years by driving her to and from the services. Addie had given piano lessons to both her mother and grandmother.

Stamos said the older woman often spoke of leaving something to USC. But it made sense that she and Bob withheld their generosity until after they had passed away.

"They were the kind of quiet people who don't get the credit," Stamos said. "Just rock-solid, pillar-of-the-earth, doing whatever needs to be done and not looking for recognition."

carla.rivera@latimes.com

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