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Roseman's Gift to the College

A Horseshoe Nail?

Story by
Nancy Joseph

When Larry Roseman hands out his business card, he points out the letters—MBP—after his name. “They stand for Mentor, Benefactor, Philosopher,” he explains. “Although the P could also be ‘patriot,’ since I spent my life working on the well-being of this country.” 

Larry Roseman (left) with ancient history graduate student Shawn Ross.

Larry Roseman (left) with ancient history graduate student Shawn Ross.

For nearly 36 years, most of them at Boeing, Roseman was a mechanical engineer working on weapon systems for the United States. Anti-submarine blimps, fighter planes, missiles, stealth bomber—he worked on them all. But since retiring, he has enjoyed another role: UW Access student. Through the Access Program, Roseman and other seniors can audit UW courses for a nominal fee. Roseman figures he has taken 60 courses since 1988.

Any engineering courses? Not a chance, says Roseman. He explains that while his engineering education at Lehigh University gave him the skills needed for his career, his Access experience is “about becoming educated in the classic sense of the word, for the enjoyment and appreciation of God’s wonders.” 

A list of Roseman’s course selections bears this out: Greek and Hebrew Creation Myths. Saints and Sinners in Early Byzantium. Tibetan Buddhism. Pharonic Egypt in the Context of the Ancient Near East. More than half of the courses are 400-level or above. “At first I was taking two courses each quarter,” says Roseman, “but later I cut back to one course so I could read more of the books referenced in the texts or suggested by the professor.” 

Roseman has focused his studies in three areas: ancient history, comparative religion, and Jewish studies. “I was raised a secular Jew, to the point where there wasn’t even a Bible in the house,” he explains, “so I’ve been particularly interested in learning about Judaism and its history.” 

Roseman also has taken every UW course in ancient history. He credits his ex-wife with piquing his interest in antiquity. “She got a PhD from the UW in classics and was extremely knowledgeable, so at breakfast I’d say, ‘Tell me something about ancient history.’ Each day she would tell me something different. It was my household’s version of Arabian Nights—the 1,001 stories—but in the morning instead. So when I started as an Access student, I naturally gravitated to the ancient history courses.”

Asked if he has any favorites among his UW professors, Roseman blanches. “It’s like asking ‘Who do you love more, your mother or your father?’” he says. “They’ve all been excellent. There was one exception, but he left the University. I expected high quality at the UW and I have received high quality.” 

One course even led to a professional collaboration. Roseman was taking a course on the Persian Wars taught by Nicholas Hammond, a visiting professor from Cambridge University. When a question arose about the construction of the historically important Xerxes’ Bridge, Hammond asked if anyone in the class had engineering knowledge. Roseman responded. The ensuing discussion led to an article about the bridge, co-authored by Hammond and Roseman, in the prestigious Journal of Hellenic Studies. 

For all that Roseman has gained from his UW experiences, he has found ways to give back. He has served as an informal mentor to nearly a dozen UW students through the years, most of whom he met while auditing courses as an Access student. Since 1992 he also has made generous donations for a fellowship in ancient history—first giving $5,000 annually, then $10,000 annually, then endowing it permanently. In June he established the Lawrence J. Roseman Endowed Fellowship in Ancient History with a $100,000 gift that will be matched by state funds. 

“I have a passion for solving problems,” he explains. “I like to figure out ways of using things more efficiently. That includes figuring out how to contribute in a way that is effective. I like to provide the proverbial horseshoe nail.” The horseshoe nail? 

Roseman explains by reciting a verse. “This comes from a French military poem,” he says: 

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost. 
For want of a horse, the battle was lost. 
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost. 
All for want of a horseshoe nail. 

“The monies I’ve given are, in my mind, that proverbial horseshoe nail,” says Roseman. “I asked [ancient history professor] Carol Thomas how I could help the History Department, and she mentioned the need for graduate fellowships to train future scholars. So that is where my support has been directed. That’s my horseshoe nail.” 

Now that Roseman has taken nearly every UW course offered in ancient history, comparative religion, and Jewish studies, what’s next?

“I’m moving into American history,” he says. “But I also retake courses when a new professor teaches them, to get a new slant on things. No one teacher can present a subject so completely that another cannot teach it and have it seem new.”