Before he died in 2014, Dr. Norman Levan’s $19 million donation to Bakersfield College was the largest in school history, according to Levan Foundation director Tom Gelder. Levan set up four scholarships in his name to promote humanities and the sciences, which he was extremely interested in, as well as funding the Norm Levan Center on campus.
Levan, a well-respected local dermatologist, established a friendship with John Collins, who was the president of BC at that time.
Gelder said that as Levan grew older and set up his funds, he felt comfortable giving the school such a large sum of money because he knew the money was in good hands with Collins, and pointed out that Levan felt the same way about current president Sonya Christian before his passing.
Gelder explained that out of the five different funds, the Norm Levan Scholarship is the largest and makes up a vast majority of Levan’s gift.
“Currently there are five different pots of money, if you will. So there’s the Norm Levan Scholarship that provides scholarships to both incoming freshman and returning students. You need a certain GPA, pretty broad in the sense that they are available to students either in the humanities or sciences, which covers pretty much everything we do here. Those are things students can access by going online, and the academic works or financial aids and access them. That has an endowment of over $12 million, and that generates as much as close as a half a million dollars a year in potential scholarships,” said Gelder.
Levan set up three other scholarships, the Norman Levan Hispanic and American Indian Scholarship, the Levan Humanities Scholarship, and the Levan Senior Lifelong Learning Program, as well as funding the Levan Center. Together, these make up the other $7 million in donations from Levan.
According to Gelder, Levan’s donation was the largest the school has ever received, and doubled the school’s endowment at the time. “His total contributions were a little over $19 million and the current total of that is a little over $21 million, so it has grown. Ideally not only do they grow, but we’re paying out money for scholarships and other things while it’s growing. So Norm Levan’s gifts alone pretty much doubled the school’s endowment. Before Levan’s donation, I think BC’s endowments were in line with similar community colleges of our size had, but Levan’s gifts completely changed that.
“We have a very strong endowment for the community college we are and Norm Levan’s stamp, or influence will be here forever just because of his gift,” Gelder said.
BC has received the bulk of Levan’s donations, Gelder said, but he elaborated that the school will receive one more payment later on.
“We’ve gotten the bulk of it. Dr. Levan’s house still needed to sell, and when it does we should get a little more, but the bulk of it is done. The last distribution we got from the estate, I remember, was $6.5 million, and it just a personal check. I remember when it came in and I took it around to people in the office and said, ‘how many of you have seen a check for $6.5 million dollars?’”
Gelder said that if the money set aside for the scholarships is not used up, it is put back into the foundation to be re-used.
“There are restrictions how we can spend it. If not enough students apply and qualify for it to use all the money up, it’s reinvested, which makes it grow and makes it be even bigger,” Gelder said.
Gelder pointed out while Levan is no longer with us, his presence can still be felt through the Levan Center and the scholarships he set up, which will continue to carry on Levan’s legacy for as long as they exist.