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Tuesday, Dec 6, 2022

In A Giving Mood

Orange County philanthropists who count personal connections to the University of California, Irvine, helped make 2021 the second-largest fundraising year in the university’s history.

“Despite the pandemic, we’re blowing it away [with fundraising], and people’s hearts are being touched. Their wallets are speaking,” said UCI Foundation Trustee James Peterson.

The former Microsemi chief executive known locally as Jimmy P added: “We’re in an uncertain time, but one thing is certain: people’s desire to give is expanding.”

2021’s collection of UCI gifts includes an abundance of mega-sized donations directed at the school.

Earlier this month, UCI disclosed that the estate of philanthropist Audrey Steele Burnand last year gifted nearly $57.8 million to the university to advance depression research.

Steele Burnand, the daughter of well-known area philanthropists Harry and Grace Steele, died in 2020.

Her gift follows the Falling Leaves Foundation’s $30 million gift, and the Chao Family Foundation’s $20 million contributions to UCI that were announced last year.

Combined, the total charitable gifts made to the research university in 2021 reached $248 million. Thirty-six of those gifts are listed on this week’s list of 2021’s Largest Charitable Gifts, which includes donations of $1 million and more.

The school’s fundraising efforts last year are eclipsed only by 2017, which saw the university’s largest single gift—$200 million—from Susan and Henry Samueli to fund a new College of Health Sciences. That year the school raised $328 million.


Life-Saving Institution

According to UCI Foundation Chair Julie Hill, in more than one instance, UCI has saved someone’s life—and that person has helped return the favor via notable donations.

“They’re called grateful donors, and we have many of them,” she said.

Two are Sue and Ralph Stern, who most recently contributed $5 million to the buildout of UCI’s new hospital and cancer center now underway on Jamboree Road.

In 2008, Sue Stern discovered a rare tumor known as an astrocytoma growing on her spinal cord.

“We found out it was a very delicate surgical procedure, in which any mistake could cause paralysis,” said Ralph Stern, who built his net worth by running dental manufacturing, consumer finance, and TV retail businesses, and who is now a frequent sight in OC’s philanthropic circles.

The Sterns sought out the finest neurosurgeons in the region for treatment options. Their search ended when they met Dr. Mark Linskey and the UCI Health cancer team.

Ralph Stern notes that up to 50% of people with cancer in Orange County go elsewhere for their treatment; that’s one main reason that fellow cancer-treating hospital City of Hope is building its own $1 billion campus elsewhere in the city.

“With our support, there will be less of a need for a patient with cancer to leave the county. That’s one of our dreams,” Stern said.

Collectively, the Sterns have given UCI $12.5 million.

Towards a Brilliant Future

All donations made to the UCI enterprise are part of the university’s Brilliant Future Campaign, described as the largest philanthropic effort in Orange County history.

Publicly launched in October 2019, the campaign seeks to garner $2 billion from community members and the university’s 75,000 alumni.

Half of its goal will be allocated toward UCI’s health schools and health systems, and the remaining $1 billion to bettering higher education through various new endeavors, including the Jack and Shanaz Langson Institute and Museum for California Art, the Falling Leaves Foundation Medical Innovation Building, and student scholarships, according to UCI Foundation President Brian 


“Many of our donors are passionate in both healthcare and higher education, and see UCI as being a one-stop shop where they can support world-class programs in all areas they have interests in,” Hervey said.

The university is “fast approaching” its goal, reaching nearly $1.2 billion of its $2 billion goal, “with a number of gifts to be announced,” he added.

No conclusion date for the campaign has been set, although there are talks of closing the campaign in 2025, when the university reaches its 60th anniversary.

Becoming World-Class

According to Hervey, one reason the school’s fundraising momentum has been so great is due to its location.

“Being part of the UC system and being in Orange County are two things that really drive excellence,” he said. “With incredible wealth and industry, it’s a great place for a research university to thrive.”

The trustees and donors have helped UCI grow from seemingly hiding in plain sight, to become a world-class institution that rivals Ivy Leagues, according to Peterson.

“We’re becoming a hub—the caliber of professors and leaders coming to us see the movement as well. There’s a change coming, and UCI is that change.”  

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Audrey Kemp
Audrey Kemp
Audrey Kemp is a staff reporter and occasional photojournalist for the Orange County Business Journal. Her beats include — but are not limited to — healthcare, startups, and education. While pursuing her bachelors in literary journalism at UC Irvine, she interned for New York-based magazine Narratively Inc., wrote for Costa Mesa-based lifestyle magazine Locale, and covered the underground music scene for two SoCal-based music publications. She is an unwavering defendant of the emdash and the Oxford comma.

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