Howard Community College turned his son's academic future around, but that's not why Pete Horowitz makes a point of donating time and money to the campus.
When he was asked to join the college's educational foundation board in 1995, the environment so impressed him that he accepted. He thought he could help.
Last night, he received the Gay C. Heitlinger Award, given annually to a Howard County citizen who has made "exceptional contributions" to the college.
"What has kept me involved is the terrific bunch of people over there," said Horowitz, 63, president and chief executive officer of Engineering Vision and Innovation (EVI), a Columbia business that makes communications systems. "They're enlightened educators."
Horowitz credits the college with helping his son, Matthew, after a high school record that was less than stellar.
"He had really done terribly in high school, and Howard Community College was the only alternative," Horowitz said. "In two years, they turned that boy around."
Graduating with honors in 1989, Matthew, now 29, transferred to the University of Pennsylvania. He studied computer science and graduated cum laude.
Horowitz said his son was hampered by a "cookie-cutter" approach in high school.
"Howard Community College wasn't like that," he said.
Horowitz, an Ellicott City resident, enjoys his volunteer work at the college, but he said he isn't sure why the campus board of trustees chose him for the Heitlinger award.
"I can think of a dozen people who are more deserving," he said.
But he has many fans on the Columbia campus.
Administrators said he quietly helps out in a variety of ways, from providing scholarships for four students going to Mexico in January -- part of the college's new study-abroad program -- to joining the Commission on the Future, a group that studied the college last year and recommended ways to improve.
The campus won't release the amount of money that he has contributed -- officials characterize him as a "major donor" -- and Horowitz said he's not sure himself.
"We had a list of names [for the award], and there wasn't any discussion," said President Mary Ellen Duncan. "Everyone said, 'Peter Horowitz, end of story.' "
"He'll put in time and resources," she added. "He likes to understand what the project is; he wants to believe in it. He's a very passionate person. It has to touch his spirit."
Horowitz is the sort of person who can see the big picture and focus on details and who always asks the right questions, said Hersch Langenthal, treasurer on the foundation board of directors.
"He doesn't dabble -- when he gets in, he's there," said Langenthal, chairman of the executive committee of Columbia Bank. "He's not the kind of board member who comes in, sits and is quiet."
Horowitz, who founded EVI with his wife, Beth, in 1984, works in the Gateway business complex in a building that's filled with microscopes to view the minuscule parts that make up communications hardware.
A trim man with a low-key demeanor, he lights up when discussing the things in life he loves.
Such as orchard farming.
A connoisseur of apples, Horowitz is starting an orchard on a portion of the 65-acre farm his family bought recently in Fulton.
He started growing apple trees in 1978, tending to 120 varieties at one point, and he wants to get back into the hobby for his four grandchildren.
It will be three or four years before the trees produce, and Horowitz is looking forward to the challenge.
Maryland's bright sunshine can turn apples to mush without the proper care, Horowitz said.
"The climate's tough down here," he said, "but the winter varieties can really be exquisite."