He Built This City


Gene Trepte joined the Board of Trustees in 1973, not long after the College for Men, the College for Women and the School of Law became the University of San Diego and Author E. Hughes took the lead as the university’s first president.

Trepte ran the neighborhood carpool at his daughters’ Catholic school, was chair of the parent committee and head flipper at the pancake breakfast fundraisers — all while serving as president of Trepte Construction Company, which built countless landmarks in San Diego.

It seemed only fitting that Trepte serve on USD’s facilities committee where he couldn’t help but notice — more than two decades after its founding — that steel was rusting, tiles in The Immaculata’s roof were leaking and the filigree on many of the buildings was deteriorating.

“Back then, the buildings of the College for Men were held together with chewing gum and baling wire,” Trepte says. “But the location was amazing, the beauty was supreme, the people were of the highest caliber and Art Hughes had a vision.”

Trepte, who served on the Board of Trustees for nearly four decades before retiring in 2011, has done tremendous things for USD, including supporting the athletic building fund, student aid, endowed faculty, the I.B. Eagen Plaza, the Hahn University Center and even the pipe organ in the choir loft in Founders Chapel.

“Student debt worries me,” says Trepte, who has given generously to USD scholarships, as well as the Trepte Family Scholarship Fund. “That’s why alumni participation is so important. People don’t have to give a lot to make a difference. Even if each of our alumni gave $10 it would go a long way.”

Trepte’s story started with his grandfather, Moritz Trepte, who came to San Diego in 1893, built the magnificent ceiling in the Crown Room at the Hotel Del Coronado and went on to oversee the Work Projects Administration Plan for Balboa Park.

Since then, four generations, including Trepte’s daughter, Christine, have designed, remodeled or built some of San Diego’s treasures — including the Wonderbread Factory, Park Manor, First National Bank, countless naval facilities, Grossmont, Sharp Memorial and Children’s hospitals, the Catamaran, Islandia and Bahia hotels, the County Courthouse addition to the Hall of Justice, the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant and Tom Ham’s Lighthouse.

Trepte and his wife, Celeste, who passed away in January 2014, were active in organizations throughout San Diego.
He served on many boards, including the Old Globe Theatre, the San Diego Foundation and the Girl Scouts of San Diego/Imperial Counties, among others. For nearly 50 years he served on the Zoological Society of San Diego, where he is a former president and trustee emeritus and is known as the “Grandfather of the Wild Animal Park.”

There’s not much in San Diego’s history that Trepte and his family weren’t part of building. “We saw it all happen,” he says. “We did everything — freeways, buildings, Navy work — and we did it right. It was progress. It was my life. It was fun.”