JULY 2018 • LONGISLANDPRESS.COM 95
ROGER TILLES: IMPORTANCE
By JEFF BERMAN
Elected three times as a Regent on the New York State
Board of Regents, Roger Tilles has been representing
Long Island’s educational interests since April 2005.
He also serves as a patron of the arts in our area.
After serving as director of his family’s investment
company, he retired to focus on philanthropic and
educational initiatives, such as creating the Long
Island Arts Alliance and his involvement with the
Tilles Center for the Performing Arts at LIU Post.
We recently caught up with Tilles to discuss his
work and charities.
Why is philanthropy important to you? I believe my
religious upbringing was important to my understanding of
giving back as an adult. I’ve been involved since I was 5 years
old in different kinds of philanthropy. It’s very important for
our family to be able to not just write a check, but to get involved.
Why are the arts so important to you? Without the arts,
I’m not sure I would be as aware of the world, as good a citizen,
as good a person, because I wouldn’t be complete. The arts have
really enabled me to express things and to hear things that I
wouldn’t otherwise encounter.
Have you taken part in the arts? I got involved with my introduction
to music, was very active in the glee club, started a barber
shop quartet and then my singing got me into Amherst College.
When I went to law school, I became an usher at the May Festival in
Ann Arbor, which was the Philadelphia Orchestra. The music
moved me so tremendously that I became passionate about
the kinds of music I listen to, not just perform.
What do you like most about representing LI on the Board
of Regents? It gives me an opportunity to be active in schools and libraries and
museums and higher education. As a result, I get to meet fantastic people –
wonderful people – in education at all levels and I get to enhance my own
ability and love of the arts because I’m chair of the Cultural Education
Committee. One of the goals that I’ve had that I think
has been successful is to bring the arts and the culture
of New York State into the public schools.
What is your goal for the LI Arts Alliance?
We wanted to highlight and have all our arts
institutions collaborate with each other, cooperate
with each other, market together and
create education opportunities, which is what
the Long Island Scholar-Artist program is.
What philanthropic effort are you most
proud of? I started an organization 31 years ago
with Monsignor Tom Hartman – Father Tom. We
both realized that we grew up in pretty much
unique ethnic communities. He was in an Irish
Catholic community in East Williston and I was
in the Jewish community of Great Neck. And it
wasn’t until we went to college that we met many
people of another faith. By then, it was us and them
or we and they. We said, “Let’s try to do something earlier.”
We started a program called Project Understanding,
which just now finished its 30th year of taking Catholic
and Jewish kids to do projects together on Long Island …
and then sending them for almost two weeks to Israel.
Do you have any sayings? Growing up, somebody told
me, “Do the best you can with what you have. And you
don’t wish you had more. You just take what you have,
and you do the best you can with it.” I found that that has
been very successful for me in terms of getting things
done and not just wishing for things.
You were quoted earlier this year referring to the
Hempstead school district as “a zoo.” Do you regret that?
I used the term in its general usage, which is a chaotic kind
of place. Although some people took offense and said that
I equated people in the district with certain animals in the
zoo, I have gotten a lot of support from the black leadership
in the community and across the state from people who
said that they’re way off base if anybody calls me a racist
because I have exhibited a great deal of time, energy and
productivity in race relations. But also, jokingly, I could say,
“Well, I should have probably called it a circus instead.” But
then the clowns would have been offended.
“Take what you have,
and you do the best
you can with it.”
Roger Tilles represents Long Island on the New York
State Board of Regents and generously gives to the arts.
(Photo by Bob Giglione)