Climbing Calimanjaro: Berkeley Around the World

By Analise Electra Smith-Hinkley

The Cal Alumni Association (CAA) was proud to welcome Robert Sproul ’69 as the new Director of Stewardship and Alumni Scholarships this July. The alumnus and longtime Cal employee has been a supporter of the University for years. But more than just a dedicated philanthropist, Sproul is an avid traveler who enjoys bringing Cal to the rest of the world.

In January, Sproul climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with six other well-known Cal alumni and donors: Jim Darby ’73; Carl Stoney ’67, JD 70, MBA ’71; Warren Davis ’66; Jeff Smith ’72; Dan Kreps ’75, MBA ’79; and Ramsay “Buzz” Wiesenfeld ’71. All of them in their sixties, these adventurous Cal alumni made the 19,341-foot climb to the peak of the highest mountain in Africa (also the tallest free-standing mountain in the world!), where, of course, they proudly waved a Cal banner high.

Happy to share the experience, Sproul sat down with CAA’s associate marketing director to discuss his fellow alumni adventurers, the link between mountaineering and fundraising, and the origin of the term “Calimanjaro.”

Now that you’ve been appointed as CAA’s Director of Stewardship and Alumni Scholarships, this feat is even more relevant!
What a coincidence! Actually the other six people who made the climb are all big-time Cal donors. Carl Stoney has been a CAA President and co-chaired the first Billion Dollar Campaign for the University with Warren Hellman ’55, John Hotchkis ’54, and Nadine Tang ’75. Your story should be as much about these guys as me. Five of them are Phi Psi’s (the fraternity also of Ted Kruttschnitt, namesake of CAA’s Kruttschnitt Aspire Scholarship Program). One of our seven, Carl, turned 69 on the mountain, Warren is 70, and the rest are all mid- to late-sixties, with the exception of Jim Darby who I think is 63 years old—a former Cal pitcher.

How does climbing Mount Kilimanjaro compare to your UC Berkeley career?
I’d say it was rewarding like fundraising for Cal, but rewarding in a different way…working at the University and training and making the climb with Cal alumni made it extra special. There was never a harsh word or any “weak link” in the seven who went to the top. This has been my experience with donors at Cal: generous, non-demanding, wanting to help others who are less fortunate succeed. Like all Cal people I have known over the years, the group was open to learning from our African guides, generous to a fault when we got off the mountain, and appreciative regarding the diversity of the experience, i.e. learning more about present day Africa and what looming issues they have with geopolitics, disease and poverty, and Muslim influence in their culture.

What’s next now that you’ve climbed Mt. K?
We’ve talked about Machu Picchu and some other exotic treks—while we still can. Quite frankly, speaking for myself, I’m not an altitude junkie who is looking to climb any more of the “seven summits” that comprise the world’s highest peaks. To a person, we all said that climbing Kili was the most physically demanding challenge we’ve undertaken. It would have been easier if we’d done this thirty years ago.

Did you guys come up with the name “Calimanjaro”?
I think either Dan Kreps or Warren Davis came up with the term Calimajaro. It probably emerged in one of our “creative moments” over a few Kilimanjaro beers.

What do you find significant about your group climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro?
Get out and do these kinds of bucket-list, strenuous challenges while you still can. As physically difficult as we all found the climb, it was also one of the most rewarding experiences we have had in our lifetimes. It’s impossible to discount the Cal connection on this climb. If I had signed up with a bunch of advertising colleagues or a group of people from all walks of life it would have been totally different and not as rewarding as going up with Cal people. We sang the Cal drinking song as our victory song in response to the African song our guides sang to celebrate our victory.

Read more about Robert Sproul and his appointment as CAA’s Director of Stewardship and Alumni Scholarships here.

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