Rozene Supple, Palm Springs philanthropist and desert radio empire founder, dies at 97

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Coachella Valley cultural pioneer, philanthropist and radio entrepreneur Rozene Supple died Wednesday at her home at Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs. She was 97.

Supple’s life story stretches back to Palm Springs’ earliest days. Born in Detroit, she spent time at the family home her father built at Smoke Tree Ranch in the 1930s — including a stint at Palm Springs High School — before moving to the desert full-time in the 1970s. She and her husband Ric Supple built a network of radio stations that dominated the desert, acquired and donated the theater that would become the core of the Palm Springs Cultural Center and helped ensure the survival of the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Friends and business associates described her as a pillar of the Palm Springs community who donated generously to support causes from the arts to animal welfare.

“She is one of the pioneers of Palm Springs, she and her husband Ric both,” said former Palm Springs Mayor Robert Moon. “They are some of the people who really built Palm Springs into what it is now.”

Supple married her husband of 50 years, Ric, in 1972. The two had attended Stanford University together years earlier and went on one date — although the courtship was allegedly cut short because Ric brought Rozene home late. They met again at a Stanford reunion after the deaths of both their first spouses.

The two moved to the desert in the mid-1970s to operate an AM radio station she had purchased a decade earlier. Supple’s father, George A. Richards, had owned major radio stations in Los Angeles and Detroit and she followed in his footsteps by acquiring and growing a network of stations that came to dominate the Coachella Valley’s radio industry for decades.

“She believed in radio,” said radio talk show host Joey English. “She believed in making people happy.”

English said Supple gave her own show on KPSI radio in 1995 and the two became fast friends. English said she was always amazed by how well Supple balanced being a skilled and hardworking businesswoman with being a devoted wife, mother and philanthropist.

Supple donated to a range of local causes such as Animal Samaritans, the Richards Emergency Trauma Center at Desert Regional Hospital and the Richards Center for the Arts at the Palm Springs High School — the latter two in honor of her late father’s legacy.

Rozene Supple, far right, with the women organizing Frank Sinatra's Valentine's Love-In benefit for Desert Hospital in 1983.
Rozene Supple, far right, with the women organizing Frank Sinatra's Valentine's Love-In benefit for Desert Hospital in 1983.

Supple played a key role in the early growth of the Palm Springs International Film Festival in the 1990s. She joined the festival’s board before its second festival in 1991 and served with her husband as board presidents, overseeing the launch of the Palm Springs International ShortFest and the short-term corporate sponsorship of the Nortel Networks. She donated more than $1 million in the festival’s first decade.

“The film festival in the early days would not have survived if it had not been for Rozene and Ric’s contributions,” said Craig Prater, a former festival executive director. He said the Supples rarely took credit for the large donations they made.

“When we were putting together our sponsor list to go in the program for the film festival each year I would say, ‘How would you like this to be listed?’ Because normally it would be listed clear at the top of the list,” Prater said. “They did not want that. They just said list them as contributors.”

The Supples bought the Camelot Theatre in 1997 as a venue for the film festival. That theater eventually became the center of the Palm Springs Cultural Center, a nonprofit center that hosts community events from live theatre and lectures to a farmers market.

Although they remained deeply involved in the Palm Springs community into their nineties, Rozene and her husband began handing off pieces of their legacy over the last decade. They sold off their radio stations and in 2017 donated the Camelot Theatre to the independent nonprofit that now runs the Palm Springs Cultural Center.

Ric and Rozene Supple attending the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Ric and Rozene Supple attending the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Ric Supple died in May 2021 at 95. According to those close to her, Rozene stayed engaged and active in community affairs until the very end.

“Whatever you could do to enrich a community, she was for it and wanted to stay active right up until, you know, this morning, she would wake up with a new idea every day,” said Debbie Supple Miller, Supple’s stepdaughter. “We should bring in this group or we should sponsor this and she was always full of that kind of vitality and love for the arts.”

Miller said her stepmother died peacefully in her own home Tuesday morning surrounded by her family. “We were actually playing music and having conversation in the room,” Miller said.

She said the Supple Foundation, formed last year shortly before the death of Ric Supple, will carry on supporting many of the same philanthropic causes that Rozene Supple supported during her life with funds left by the couple.

Miller said the family plans to hold a celebration of life service for her stepmother at the Camelot Theatre in early October, although details about the event have yet to be decided.

“It’s amazing that one person, and with my dad’s support, that they did all these things for the community,” Miller said. “You’ve just got to love them, you know, for being so generous.”

Supple is survived by her son, Rick Moore, and six stepdaughters and their families.

Prior reporting from former Desert Sun entertainment reporter Bruce Fessier was incorporated in this report.

James B. Cutchin covers business in the Coachella Valley. Reach him at james.cutchin@desertsun.com.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Palm Springs' Rozene Supple, desert philanthropist dies at 97

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