Harris Rosen — the first to go to college from his low-income family from Manhattan’s Lower Eastside in the 1950s — claimed a degree from Cornell University’s renown School of Hotel Administration. Back to Gotham he went, serving as a convention salesman at the Waldorf Astoria.
Eventually he found himself in the convention capitol of the United States — Orlando, Fla. — where he’d turn a single highway hotel into an empire.
More than a decade ago, he donated the site for the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management. But that isn’t his most meaningful contribution to education. His impact on the community of Tangelo Park will be his greatest legacy.
In 1993 Rosen came to the troubled neighborhood for a school visit and asked a group of children how many wanted to go to college. “Two or three hands went up,” he remembered. He made a commitment to a change, inherently believing that the neighborhood’s best answer to crime and hopelessness was education.
In two decades, he has poured more than $10 million into the 3,000-resident Tangelo Park. In a community which once saw more than half of its young people drop out of school, there have been nearly 500 Rosen Scholars since. In the most informal way, his generous scholarships pay for tuition and fees, room and board, books and travel for those students who attend in-state public schools. There is no staff for the Tangelo Park Program. Volunteers — and Rosen himself — take care of the needs.
Residents credit Rosen’s investment with a thorough transformation of the neighborhood. “We are sitting on gold her now,” said Jeroline Adkinson, a resident and president of the Tangelo Park Civic Association. Where once so many would drop out of high school, now 20 of the 25 graduates from the Class of 2015 claimed their Rosen Scholarship.