Chapman University Remembers Huell Howser

In this letter sent by President James L. Doti to the Chapman University community, he recalls the impact Huell Howser made on our students and campus.

January 8, 2013

As many of you have already heard, Chapman University’s dear friend and California television legend Huell Howser passed away on Sunday at the age of 67.

Many of you, like me, came to “know” Huell by watching his “California’s Gold” TV shows.  After watching a show he did on Old Town Orange, I called Huell and invited him to visit our campus.  When he came, Huell was just like he was on his show:  excited about everything he saw and everyone he met.

Huell had a very genuine enthusiasm and love for life and for just about everything around him, and that comes across so endearingly in all of his television shows.  He saw stories, and he told them – or rather, coaxed and coached his subjects themselves into telling them – in his engaging, folksy way, in a series of television shows that have become an iconic legacy of our Golden State.   The real “California’s Gold,” to him, was California’s people – in all their wonderful, eccentric, passionate diversity.  It was all real, and that is what people all over this state and elsewhere responded so immediately to him.  Put simply, Huell loved people, and they adored him in return.  That is why, I think, Huell’s passing is to many in California like losing a member of the family.

When Huell gave a public talk on campus in October 2011, he packed Memorial Hall.  Countless more people waited for him to come outside, just for a chance to talk with him and to tell him how much they loved him.   One person even showed off her tattoo of Huell (Huell, of course, loved that!).   And Huell stayed outside after that talk, just chatting and signing autographs, and the crowd stayed too, until well after 11 p.m. that night.  It was…yes…amazing!

Huell devoted the last two years of his life to assuring that people all over the world – particularly students, teachers and children – would always be able to access his life’s work, by generously donating it to Chapman University.   All 900-plus episodes of “California’s Gold” are now available online, for free public viewing, at, through the dedicated work of our own Panther Productions.   Huell was very gratified to see that happen.

Over the past year he also entrusted us with other parts of his legacy: his art collection, consisting mostly of fascinating “found objects” he happened upon in his travels, which will go on display soon; his memorabilia collection, part of which is on exhibit now on the first floor of the Leatherby Libraries; and various pieces of real estate, including the remarkable “Volcano House,” a Midcentury Modern domed house on top of an ancient volcano in the Mohave Desert, which will become a base for study tours and projects by Chapman students and faculty in environmental science, astronomy, film and other disciplines.

One of the things dearest to his heart was the California’s Gold Scholarship Fund, which Huell endowed last year.  In addition to his very generous financial gift to fund the California’s Gold Scholarship, the proceeds from the sale of two of his homes will be applied to the fund.  The scholarship will be presented to selected undergraduates who display a positive outlook and who are actively pursuing ways to improve society as altruistic change agents.  The first recipient of the scholarship is Mayra Gonzalez, a junior from Santa Ana who is also one of our Simon Scholars.

Because it is an endowment, the California’s Gold Scholarship Fund will continue creating educational opportunities for Chapman students for generations to come.  As Huell himself put it when talking to Chapman Magazine, “A hundred years from now, there won’t be a person walking on this planet who knows or cares who Huell Howser was.  The words ‘California’s Gold’ will no longer mean anything about me or a television series.  They’ll mean what California’s Gold has always meant: not the literal gold nuggets that they pulled out of the earth, not the riches people got when they came here – but the dreams that brought people here and are still bringing people here.  Every cent these students receive helps them to meet their goals and their dreams.”

It is an immense privilege for Chapman University to have been entrusted with Huell’s life legacy.  I believe it gave Huell great comfort in his final days that his legacy will endure forever at a university that he described as “a very comfortable place for me and my work.”

To pay tribute to Huell, we invite you to visit and leave your thoughts and remembrances on the memorial page.  A tribute alcove has been set up on the first floor of the Leatherby Libraries, as well, along with the exhibit of Howser memorabilia.  Donations in Huell’s memory may be made to the California’s Gold Scholarship Fund – you’ll find a link on the archives home page.