Philanthropist and former Ryland Group CEO R. Chad Dreier died last week following a battle with cancer. He was 70.
He was known for his generous donations to local organizations, tireless work as a home builder, life as a father and husband and his unique collection of rare sports items and other memorabilia.
Mr. Dreier graduated from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles in 1969. He served as chairman for the university’s board of trustees from 1998 to 2011, during which time he saw the university undergo a good amount of transformation — much of which can be credited to his own generosity, according to the university.
After graduating from LMU, Mr. Dreier joined the Air Force. He then took a position at what is now Ernst & Young, an accounting firm, in the mid-1970s, before ending up in real estate. In the early 1990s, he became president, chairman and CEO of Ryland Group, one of the nation’s largest home builders. He retired in 2009.
“I loved home building,” Mr. Dreier said in an alumni feature on LMU’s website. “Home is so integral and central to the fabric of everything people are, and we did that. We created that.”
Mr. Dreier considered LMU to be the “social conscience” of Southern California.
“There’s nothing else like us here,” he said. “We’ve taken an institution that was great, but instead of a Southern California place for Catholic boys to attend, we’ve made it an international school. I’m proud of that.”
In 2003, Mr. Dreier pledged $3.5 million to establish the R. Chad Dreier Chair in Accounting to LMU’s College of Business Administration to help strengthen the training of accountants and their positive influence on American business.
In 2004, Mr. Dreier and his wife, Ginni, made a seven-figure gift and the first matching grant for the renovation and restoration of the Santa Barbara Bowl. Their philanthropic leadership helped generate over $1 million in new pledges and donations. In 2014, the venue’s newly completed box office was dedicated as the Dreier Box Office and Administration Building.
In 2005, the News-Press wrote a story on Mr. Dreier’s expansive PEZ collection, which consisted of well over 500 dispensers that included a soft-head Mickey Mouse, known as one of the three most expensive PEZ dispensers in the world.
In 2008, Mr. and Mrs. Dreier were named Santa Barbara County Philanthropists of the Year for their generosity and volunteerism in the areas of health, education and the arts.
In 2011, Sports Collectors Daily reported that Legendary Auctions was selected to handle the sale of the sports cards and sports memorabilia items owned by Mr. Dreier and his son, Doug. The collection was a private museum that included some of the most rare and high grade sports cards and memorabilia known to exist, many of them one of a kind. The collection included game-worn items from Kirk Gibson’s memorable 1988 World Series home run, one of the finest Honus Wagner cards known to exist, the only known uncut sheet of S81 Turkish Trophy silk premiums, the most comprehensive assembly of 1898 Cameo Pepsin celluloid pins and elite Mickey Mantle and Sandy Kofax game jerseys, among other items.
“I can’t think of a better thing to do with our collection at this point than make it available for other collectors to appreciate,” Mr. Dreier is quoted in the report.
Rich Block, CEO of the Santa Barbara Zoo, told the News-Press the loss is tough on both the zoo family and for him personally, having lost a dear friend.
“He was truly a self-made person with integrity, and I cherished every opportunity I had to spend time with him,” Mr. Block said.
Mr. Dreier was integral in the zoo community due to his generous donations over the years and helped name many of the animals at the zoo.
“I can’t think of anyone who would walk away from an encounter with Chad that wouldn’t be impressed or feel drawn to him,” Mr. Block said. “He was truly unique in every sense of the word.”
One thing he will always remember was Mr. Dreier’s sense of humor and his authenticity. A home builder who helped provide a roof for countless families across the nation, Mr. Dreier brought that same approach in providing exhibits and attractions to help bring families together at the zoo.
“He did a lot for Santa Barbara,” Mr. Block said. “So many people will never really know who he was, but because of his generosity loads of people will benefit from what he did.”
Mr. Dreier also contributed to renovations for Cottage Health and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, among other organizations.
Mr. Dreier was considered as “one of home building’s most successful corporate turnaround architects,” according to a farewell article published in Builder Magazine.
“(He) will be remembered by team members, competitors, and partners as an almost peerless home building finance and capital access expert, and a trusted manager among entrepreneurial divisional and regional operators,” wrote John McManus, editorial and digital content director for the Residential Group at Hanley Wood in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Dreier helped bring Ryland Homes to a top-5 position among home builders in late 1993 and was known to put enormous focus on the human side of running the 15-state, 40-plus market, Mr. McManus wrote.
“He knew that knowing the names of each of his divisions’ associates, and in many, many cases, their family members names, their schools, and their birthdays, their interests and milestones, was a critical to the business culture he wanted to restore at Ryland, which eventually merged with Standard Pacific to become CalAtlantic and was bought by Lennar in 2017,” he wrote.
“For him, home building was not only a business but a passion, a science — but not rocket science — of motivating people to do things that are ‘easy to say and hard to do.'”
Katherine Wertheim, a certified fund raising executive for local nonprofits, wrote on Twitter that she was crushed to hear of Mr. Dreier’s passing.
“He was an amazing Santa Barbara donor, and a huge collector,” she wrote. “He literally built a museum next to his home to house his collections in geology, TV, film and sports. Such a loss!”
Mr. Dreier was diagnosed with cancer in February 2018. He died surrounded by family Dec. 28.
Representatives from the family, when contacted by the News-Press, noted they would release a formal obituary for Mr. Dreier at a later date.