Nursing home's coronavirus victim dedicated himself to students, community
April 18-- Apr. 18--Marshall Mitzman hadn't planned to be at Gateway Care Rehabilitation Center for long -- he and his wife were still hoping to cruise around the Mediterranean to celebrate their 75th birthdays.
The 73-year-old Hayward community leader died at the nursing home after a short battle with COVID-19. The Alameda County district attorney's office is investigating the outbreak. Thirteen residents of the nursing home have died, and scores of patients and staff members have been infected.
Mitzman had been at Gateway since February, recovering from a brain tumor. The death was sudden, his wife, Felicidad "Felie" Ulep-Mitzman, said, with few of the usual symptoms. The last time she saw him was through the window, on Easter Sunday. It was the first time she'd visited him that he hadn't waved -- he just looked confused. On Tuesday, she got a call from the nurses saying that he had died after experiencing difficulty breathing.
She still doesn't know what happened, how it all changed so fast.
"The worst thing is that you're not able to hug or see him, or at least say goodbye," Ulep-Mitzman said."You cannot even touch each other because of this virus. No words, no nothing."
Mitzman was born on May 23, 1946, in Michigan to Moe Mitzman, a chemical engineer, and Nellie Mitzman-Schartz. Mitzman and his sister and three brothers grew up in the small town of Angola, Ind.; the children helped their parents with the family's bleach manufacturing business, washing and soaking off labels from recycled bottles to label, refill and deliver them.
"Everyone was poor and nobody knew it," his sister, Vivian Ehrlich, said, noting that even as a young boy, Marshall worked hard to save money for college. "Any education he got, he earned on his own."
Education was of paramount importance for Mitzman, and in 1964, he moved to the Bay Area, where he attended community college at Foothill in Los Altos Hills and De Anza in Cupertino. He obtained a bachelor's degree at San Jose State University.
He eventually earned his master's and doctoral degrees at Judge College and Cambridge University in England. Afterward, he returned to California where he stayed for the rest of his life, owning and operating a variety of businesses including his most recent company, Fingerprint Services of America.
When he met Felie in 1992, he ran a video store in Saratoga. They were married during a "Lion King" themed ceremony in 1994 in the library of a cruise ship headed for the Caribbean with 35 of their closest friends and family members in attendance. He loved to pamper her with her favorite flowers, orchids -- for no other reason than just to express his love. He called her his "queen," she said.
Many knew Mitzman for his deep love of Disney, especially of Mickey Mouse. Their wedding favors were Mickey Mouse themed, and their house, Ulep-Mitzman said, was like a curio shop of Mickey Mouse collectibles, with a Disney flag out front, a bush in their front yard landscaped in the shape of Mickey's head, and a red Mini Cooper that he called his "Mickey Car." He had been one of the earliest to have stock in the Disney Co. and sported a collection of hundreds of Mickey Mouse ties.
But he was most known in the community for his service to students. Heidi Benson Stagg of Alameda, who met him in the early 2000s when she went to work for the San Leandro Chamber of Commerce, said she can't remember a time when Mitzman, who was a chamber ambassador, missed a ribbon-cutting. He always showed up early, too, asking what he could help with, or carry, or relieve from other people.
Mitzman was the first board chairman of the Chabot College Foundation in 2003, and he helped make it into a real 501(c) organization, Benson Stagg said, saying Mitzman spearheaded every one of their fundraisers. In 2008, he was named Gladiator of the Year, an award that recognizes someone who goes above and beyond to support the students at Chabot College.
"He was the epitome of someone who was a champion for students," Benson Stagg said. "In his time, he touched so many people ... I think there's probably tens of thousands of people that Marshall had a positive impact on. I wish we could all say that."
In 2008, Mitzman was elected to the Board of Trustees of the Chabot-Las Positas Community College District, where he served one term as board president and represented the community of Hayward.
"I tell ... Latino and African American students, they are direct beneficiaries, both of his support and his philanthropy," Hayward Councilman Mark Salinas said. "All those students that are now in flourishing professions -- Marshall had a hand in that. That's his legacy."
He was impressively social, said Kari McAllister of Hayward, who worked with him at Chabot College. She saw him almost everywhere she went, no matter how unlikely. In 2017, when she was running the sound system at a Relay for Life event, he showed up with a Salvation Army food truck to feed all the workers.
"He deserves a big memorial," McAllister said. "He gave and gave and gave and never stopped. ... It was never about him."
Memorial plans are still being considered, Ulep-Mitzman said, noting that she wants to wait until his community can gather again.
Mitzman is survived by his wife of 26 years, Felicidad Ulep-Mitzman; his stepchildren and step grandchildren; daughter and son-in-law Cari and James Dennis of Pasco, Wash.; daughter and son-in-law Virginia and John Nuckols of Frederick, Md.; grandchildren Norah, Max, Harrison and Olivia Nuckols; sister and brother-in-law Vivian and Irvin Ehrlich of Fitchburg, Wis.; brother Leonard Mitzman of Cincinnati; and eight nieces and nephews.
Annie Vainshtein is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter @annievain