Levan’s Legacy


Norman Levan, 94, has given nearly $20 million dollars to Bakersfield College.

Zak S. Cowan, Editor in Chief

Norman Levan, the 96-year-old philanthropist who has given Bakersfield College nearly $20 million dating back to September of 2007, sits in his modest house watching CNN as he reads the subtitles. His hearing is all but gone, but his knowledge never stops growing.

His long-time friend, former BC president John Collins, is gone, as is Betty, his wife of 55 years. But the impact Levan has made on BC and its students will be felt and remembered for 100 more years, whether he likes it or not.

Levan doesn’t have any longing desire to be remembered for what he has done and the donations he has given.

“I don’t care if I’m remembered or not,” he said. “I don’t want to leave any legacy, but of course the Levan Institute for the humanities and the similar things I’ve done for USC and St. John’s [College], I’m glad I had a chance to do those things.”

Levan gives because he believes it is his obligation to do so.

“It is very difficult, the art of giving, to know what to do with the money you have,” he said.

John D. Rockefeller is a man that Levan looks up to in relation to philanthropy.

“Old man Rockefeller had no problem giving out money — he passed out bags,” Levan said. “There is a lesson to be learned from that.”

Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, helped define the art of modern philanthropy and donated more than $550 million.

“There is a joy of giving and it’s better to give than receive,” Levan said. “One thing you don’t do is expect anything back for it. Anything back for it or any appreciation is not important.”

Levan has nonetheless gotten accolades. Most recently, the Bernard Osher Foundation named him Philanthropist of the Year on Oct. 12.

Levan has been a crusader for higher education and hopes that the students at BC appreciate what they have and that they take advantage of it.

“For the person, [education] helps them live a happier life,” he said. “There are two kinds of uses for a college education. One is to learn a trade and the other is to learn more broadly about what there is to know in the world.”

Levan has experienced nearly a century of history, and for more than 60 years, has practiced medicine.

He has seen some groundbreaking inventions enter the medical field, but Levan still hasn’t seen his biggest desire of the medical field come to fruition.

“In ancient Rome, the doctor was an employee of the state,” he said. “Now, the doctor is a business man, and there’s a conflict of interest — it’s money making and practicing medicine.

“I’d be very happy to be like a fireman and be an employee of the state.”

Levan still practices medicine, once a week for five or six hours in his little office right next to Rosemary’s Family Creamery.

“I don’t think I need to, but I enjoy the relationships with the people, some of which I’ve known for three generations,” he said. “And also there’s an intellectual pleasure in it.”

Levan has no children and has no regrets about it either.

He seems perfectly content with the life he’s lived and the people he has met along the way.

He may be modest about his philanthropy, but he is ever so prideful of the man he is.

“I’m not modest; I think I’m the brightest guy I’ve ever known,” Levan said. “But I’m still alive so I can do more.”

Levan is no doubt approaching the end of his life, and in his autobiography, “Life on My Terms,” he confronted that fact head on.

“I don’t care what people say about me after I’m gone,” Levan said in the final chapter of his memoir. “… In the long run my opinion of myself is more important than anybody else’s.”