Bob and Linda Axel: Student Union Pioneers Continue to Pay it Forward

It was 1961. Linda Bernstein was a wide-eyed freshman. Bob Axel was a sociable sophomore surrounded by his Pi Kappa Tau fraternity brothers. What was then known as San Fernando Valley State College became the setting of their blossoming romance, and the beginning of a lifelong connection. Six decades later, the campus has transformed and bears a different name, but the university is a place Bob and Linda — now retired and still happily married — hold close to their hearts.

Robert Axel ’64 (Business Administration) and Linda Axel ’65 (Elementary Education) for many years have contributed to the improvement of their alma mater, now named California State University, Northridge, and the students who have come after them. As undergraduate students, the couple cultivated their mindset of service to other Matadors by serving in student government. Today, as retirees, they found a more lasting vehicle: In November 2018, the Axels established an endowed scholarship to benefit student leaders in the Michael D. Eisner College of Education and the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics — where the couple earned their bachelor’s degrees.

Bob and Linda Axel at their wedding in 1964

Bob and Linda Axel at their wedding in 1964

“Getting an education at CSUN was a big bargain, and this is my way to give back,” Linda Axel said. “I want to give students — especially students who are less fortunate than I was — a chance to have a good education.

“I see this as sort of finishing the circle, in the ‘pay it forward’ concept,” she said. “I got a great education, and I want to give students those same opportunities.”

Thousands of CSUN students stream in and out of the University Student Union (USU) every day, to study, socialize, attend events, grab lunch and work out at the Student Recreation Center (SRC), with little awareness of its history. In the ’60s, this vibrant hub of campus life was just a dream. Valley State’s student government, Associated Students (AS), took on the challenge of planning, raising funds for and building the first USU.

As AS president from 1962-63, Bob Axel envisioned a space on campus for student gatherings. Other nearby campuses had student unions for meetings. At the time, Valley State boasted a huge expanse of land but only a handful of buildings for classes and lectures. Even on the fateful day of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Bob Axel said, the shocked and mourning CSUN students only had a cafeteria as a place to come together and grieve. Bob and Linda served together in AS, with Linda as director of clubs and organizations.

Bob, a business student, galvanized AS into action — and most important, funding.

As a student leader, “I was at the right place at the right time,” Bob said.

Bob and Linda Axel (center) pose for a photo with their good friend, Vance Meyers (far right)

Bob and Linda Axel (center) pose for a photo with their good friend, Vance Meyers (far right)

Bob contacted Valley legislator Tom Bane to authorize state funds toward the creation of a Valley State student union. Then, together with Jesse Unruh, speaker of the California State Assembly, Bane helped secure the funding. After a six-year fundraising process and subsequent construction, CSUN’s original USU opened in 1977.

The USU now houses a variety of facilities that enhance CSUN student life, from the Pride Center and Veterans Center to a bustling computer lab and vibrant Sol Center.

“The legislation [that authorized funding for the USU] had a lot of foresight,” Bob said. “I’m happy to see it.”

Since its grand opening in the late ’70s, the USU has undergone a vast number of changes, including a major renovation in 2006, the establishment of the gleaming SRC gym in 2012 and plans for a potential new building in 2022 (depending on the outcome of a student referendum early next month).

After graduation, the Axels went on to successful careers. Shifting from business to law, Bob Axel attended UCLA Law School and practiced real estate law. In 1971-72, he even returned to Valley State to teach business law. He moved on to public service in 1974, when he became a judge in the Los Angeles Superior Court, where he served for 38 years until his retirement. His tenure on the bench included 23 years as commissioner of the Los Angeles Superior Court, on the executive committee of the Superior Court, where he received the Iron Man Award for longest-serving member of the committee.

Linda Axel had her own busy career. After graduating from Valley State and completing her teaching credential in 1965, she taught elementary school for two years. She planned to go back to teaching after taking time off to raise her own son and daughter, but California’s computing and technology boom led her to sales in later years, selling computers to insurance agencies. She found success despite being one of the only women in a the male-dominated field, she said.

Bob and Linda Axel today

Bob and Linda Axel today

After decades of hard work, the Axels are enjoying their retirement and life by the water in Huntington Beach. Looking back at their lives, the couple found themselves reflecting on their alma mater — the place where it all began. Not only do they remain in touch with close friends they met on campus, but they also have nurtured their connection to the university itself. Since 2007, the Axels have been active donors to CSUN.

Their new endowed scholarship is much more than a symbol of their memories at CSUN; it’s an expression of the Axels’ passion for service. The couple said they hope they’ve done their part in helping future students succeed.

To current CSUN students, Bob Axel said: “You’re getting a first-rate education. Put in the effort and have something to show for it.”

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