Philanthropist Dorothy L. Rubel - a founder of the UA Humanities Seminars Program in 1984 for senior citizens - died Monday of natural causes at her midtown home. She was 108.

Rubel helped raise $700,000 for the program, and in tribute in 2007 an auditorium was named after her - the Dorothy Rubel Room at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, which houses the seminars.

"This adult education series has attracted hundreds of students in their 60s, 70s and 80s to study the arts, sciences and humanities," said Norman Austin, a former board chairman of the program and professor emeritus of the UA department of classics.

"So much of her heart and soul was in this program, and we all knew that," said Austin, describing the not-for-credit seminars taught by present and former UA professors to senior citizens who find joy in learning.

George Rosenberg, also a former program board member and former managing editor of the Tucson Citizen, wrote in an email that Rubel "persuaded Abbey Grune- wald and Cele Peterson, among other partners, to invest generously in a UA Foundation endowment whose income would be used to persuade UA scholars to stay here and reject offers of higher salaries elsewhere."

He recalled that David Soren, regents professor in the School of Anthropology and the department of classics, was director of the Humanities Seminars Program and worked with Rubel from 1984 to 2011.

"Dorothy has been my mentor and friend since 2000," wrote Kerstin Miller, coordinator of the Humanities Seminars Program, in an email. "She took classes until 2007 and attended our board meetings until 2008. When she could no longer attend seminars and meetings, I hand-delivered all sorts of reports to her so that she could continue being a part of the program. She was a truly remarkable person who gave so much to so many people."

Dorothy Lyons was born Sept. 22, 1903, in St. Louis, and was an infant when her family moved to Los Angeles where her father, William Lyons, worked as a chemist. Lyons died when Dorothy was 5, and Dorothy's mother, Rose Lyons, moved back to St. Louis with Dorothy and her sister.

The family finally settled in Chicago where Rose Lyons went to work for the U.S. Post Office. Dorothy studied piano and received a music scholarship to the University of Chicago, said her great-granddaughter Katie Rubel.

In 1929, Dorothy married Frederick Rubel Sr., a stockbroker.

"They went on their honeymoon and soon after they returned the stock market crashed," said Katie Rubel, adding that her great-grandfather still remained employed. The couple had one son, Frederick Rubel Jr., who was born in 1931, and became a businessman and engineer, eventually moving to Tucson.

While in Chicago, Dorothy Rubel volunteered for the then Metropolitan Housing and Planning Council, for years before she was named executive director of the independent organization and civic watchdog of housing for the poor, said her great-granddaughter.

Rubel led the group from 1943 to 1974 and helped influence national housing legislation to create affordable, decent housing for low-income families. She worked with politicians in Washington, D.C., and with the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

In 2009, Rubel was filmed for Chicago's Metropolitan Planning Council's 75th anniversary as she recalled deplorable housing conditions during the Great Depression and World War II.

In 1953, she took Chicago Daily News reporters on a tour of the city's slums and stories included "that of a toddler whose nose was chewed off by a rat," according to the council's website.

In 1977, Dorothy and her husband retired and moved to Tucson to be near their son and grandchildren. However, her husband died of lymphoma in the fall of that same year.

"She would say her son was her greatest achievement," said Katie Rubel of her grandfather who died in 2010, also of lymphoma.

A memorial service by the UA's Humanities Seminars Program is pending.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at 573-4104 or