Larry Satkowiak

As we prepare for Diversity Week and the 28th annual Kaitz Foundation Dinner, I got to thinking about its origins and the people who started the event. Walter Kaitz passed away in 1980, so I expect that few people today would know who he was and how the event got started. When I went to the oral histories on our website, I was deeply saddened that we did not have on oral history from Walter Kaitz. Fortunately, we do have an oral history from Spencer Kaitz, Walter’s son, and through that and other sources in our archives I am able to recreate the story for you.

Walter Kaitz was born near Kiev, Russia, in 1916. His family fled the Russian revolution, avoiding possible execution, and settled in a tough neighborhood in South Boston. He recognized the value of education and received a newspaper boy scholarship to Harvard, where he entered the ROTC program. During World War II he was an artillery officer, distinguishing himself during the Battle of the Bulge, and was badly wounded by an explosion that came close to taking his life. When he came home, he graduated from the Bolt Law School at University of California, Berkeley, and developed an expertise in legislative matters.

He represented a number of associations at the time, but his interest in the cable industry began around 1960. The fledgling cable operators in California were fighting long and bitter battles just for the right to exist. Kaitz was a driving force behind the establishment of the California Cable Television Association (CCTA) and organized it into a model for state associations around the country. In many ways, CCTA led the way for the nation in legislative affairs. Kaitz emphasized the importance of working together, which led to the formation of the “Western Show” in 1967. As industry leader Bill Bresnan put it, “He instructed us, led the industry, taught us about political process and tried to get the whole industry behind the really important issues."

Spencer recalls these days as “a family affair.” His mother, a driving force in her own right, was constantly at her husband’s side and the children were involved from an early age. He and his sisters stuffed envelopes and worked the show for years and Spencer eventually became the chief executive of CCTA in 1980. Walter became sick in 1979 and passed away that December. In our 1989 oral history, Spencer recalled toying with the idea of a foundation, but he did not have a particular purpose in mind at the time. He thought that instead of sending flowers, people might send a donation and was surprised at the generosity of the industry heavyweights.

He talked to a number of people at the time, including Ray Joslin, Amos Hostetter, Doug Dittrick, John Goddard and Paul Maxwell, about a way to honor the life of this remarkable man. Joslin suggested that they establish the foundation “to encourage hiring and promotion of more members in minority groups in the cable business.” Walter always thought that “the problems that immigrants faced in this country were similar to problems faced by minorities. He thought America was a land where everybody should have the opportunity to prosper—it was truly the Promised Land,” wrote Spencer. By the mid-1980s, the Kaitz Foundation Dinner became an established industry-wide event.

The founders of the Kaitz Foundation recognized early on that cable industry’s ability to compete successfully in the future hinged on building a strong and diverse workforce that reflects the needs of its customers. What other industry takes a week to celebrate diversity on this scale? I would encourage you to look at the activities presented by NAMIC, WICT and ACC during the week of September 10 and attend the Kaitz Foundation Dinner on September 12 in New York. I hope to see you there!

(Larry Satkowiak is president and CEO of The Cable Center, the nonprofit educational arm of the cable industry. The Center preserves cable’s enduring contributions to society, strengthens relationships between cable and academia and unites the industry around the advancement of exceptional customer service. www.cablecenter.org)

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