Gilbert leaves many rockin’ memories

Brittany Westerberg

Brittany Westerberg

A man whose personality and teaching style made his face easily recognizable to SDSU students for nearly three decades passed away this summer.

Howard “Rocky” Gilbert, age 73, died June 19 at the Brookings Hospital. Originally from Spokane, Wash., he taught at Oregon State University while working on his doctorate before becoming a professor at SDSU. During his nearly 35 years here, Gilbert taught microeconomics and business management, affecting thousands of students’ lives.

Debra DeBates, associate professor in the human development, consumer and family studies department, said she was in his 7:30 a.m. microeconomics class in Rotunda D while working on her undergraduate degree.

“It was referred to as ‘rockonomics,'” she said. “Rocky’s style of dress and teaching were pretty unconventional even for the 1970s. Often he wore a bandana and leather pants since he usually rode his motorcycle for transportation. Everyone on campus knew who he was even if they hadn’t taken a class from him.”

President David Chicoine agreed that even those who had not been in his class recognized him. Gilbert taught Chicoine intermediate microeconomics theory one of the first years he started teaching at SDSU.

“He was a great teacher,” Chicoine said. “He taught a lot of people the basics of economics, and ? he did it dynamically. How many classes do you take in your college career, and how many teachers do you remember? Not very many. They all sort of blur together. [Gilbert] made an impact.”

Both DeBates and Chicoine remember him using creative examples to get his students to remember different economics laws, such as using food – like Nick’s Hamburgers and ice cream sundaes – to demonstrate the law of diminishing marginal utility.

Chicoine also knew Gilbert as the first faculty adviser of Lambda Chi Alpha, which Gilbert helped start.

“He was a dedicated faculty adviser,” and a good person, Chicoine said. “You got the sense that he really cared and wanted you to be successful.”

Gilbert, besides being a teacher and faculty adviser to a fraternity, was very involved with the Dance for Dystrophy, a charity cause that lasted for nearly two decades. He served as master of ceremonies every year but one.

Gilbert was an inspiration and mentor to many people and was someone who made life interesting, according to many former students. They liked Gilbert even though he was a very tough teacher. Many considered getting a “C” in his economics classes an accomplishment.

“He had a quiz every single Wednesday,” Barb Teal, chief of staff at the SDSU Foundation, said. “The story was he was the only professor who could empty the bars on Tuesday and fill them on Wednesday.”

After surviving microeconomics with Gilbert, Teal bought a t-shirt commemorating the fact from the Economics Club.

“If you got a seat in that class, you were doing well, and I think that’s why they started selling those t-shirts,” she said. “They thought that if you made it through the class, you deserved something.”

Gilbert retired from teaching Dec. 31, 2001. At the time, according to a 2002 interview in The Collegian, he was writing a book about gay men involved in straight relationships.

Teal said hearing about his death took a lot of people by surprise.

“Even a year ago, when he would be walking up the streets or driving his motorcycle, it was just somebody you knew,” she said. “He would always say hi. He was a very friendly person.”

#1.882484:2496376281.jpg:Rocky.1.CMYK.BW.NOCUT.jpg:Barb Teal poses with a t-shirt she purchased after taking an economics class with the late Rocky Gilbert.: