Seniors | Score one for Palo Alto mans drive to get banister installed at Stanford

Bud Rubin is a very busy man.

The Palo Alto resident regularly volunteers at nearby Juana Briones Elementary School, reading with children there. He goes to an aerobics class three times a week and does line dancing twice a week. Every Saturday morning he studies Torah at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills. When the weather is nice, he travels to these activities by bike.

He’s 92.

Bud Rubin (with son Mitch) sports his Cardinals cap at a Rose Bowl game

And that’s not the half of it.

A longtime musical theater fan, he holds season tickets to several local theater companies. He volunteers at a food bank with his Beth Am men’s group and attends Friday night services. He attends lectures at Stanford and goes to most Stanford men’s basketball and football games. He’s a volunteer teacher with Abilities United, a nonprofit that supports children and adults with disabilities, and every year he dresses up as Santa Claus for the group’s holiday party.

“I joke about having a Jewish Santa Claus,” Rubin says. “They have an outfit for me to wear. I give out gifts as Santa until Rudolph the Reindeer starts reminding me we have other places to go.”

Rubin was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1922, went to Penn State and served in the Navy during World War II. In 1966, he moved from Pittsburgh to California with his wife and four children to work for General Electric. Now retired, he still lives in his home; his wife died in 2000.

A few years ago, Rubin’s energy and determination found purpose in his zeal for basketball. He’s been attending Stanford basketball games regularly for decades, and his season tickets placed him mid-court, with seats about a dozen rows up. The steps are steep in the 1969-built Maples Pavilion, and Rubin began to have trouble getting down them after games.

“It’s become more and more of a difficult situation for me as I age, and balancing becomes a bit more difficult,” Rubin says. “Going up is pretty easy, but coming down is a concern. I would usually wait until everyone else had descended, then walk down slowly, holding on and stopping.”

Rubin had a tough time keeping steady, because unlike the football stadium, Stanford’s basketball arena didn’t have handrails.

“Why the heck not?” Rubin thought. Seeing a safety issue for himself and others — and a liability concern for the university — Rubin composed a letter to Stanford president John Hennessey asking that handrails be installed. That letter, dated Feb. 5, 2011, set off a chain of correspondence with Stanford officials over the next few years.

“Every three to four months they would say they’re doing something,” Rubin says. He kept pushing: “If I hadn’t heard from Stanford, I would fire off another letter to see where they’re going.”

Rubin by the banister at the arena

The problem, according to Rosa Gonzalez, director of ADA compliance at the Stanford Diversity and Access Office, was that mounting handrails in the pavilion’s narrow aisles would create a hazard in case of fire.

“The fire marshal wouldn’t let us do it,” she says.

Stanford’s deputy director of athletics, Ray Purpur, was able to install handrails in another part of the stadium, and the university moved Rubin to a different seat for about a year, according to Rubin. But he kept writing letters.

Finally Gonzalez found a solution, calling in an architect to design handrails that wouldn’t block the aisles.

“We had to build a prototype in the parking lot, and then we had the fire marshal come out,” she says. The fire marshal gave the OK, and handrails went up in Rubin’s old section over a year ago.

Back in his familiar seat, Rubin has been gratified to see other people using the handrail, and Gonzalez said it’s been a huge benefit to people coming to games.

And it’s all due to Rubin’s persistence, according to Gonzalez.

“Let me tell you,” she says. “We need more people like him.”

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a J. parenting columnist and former staff writer. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.