(Bakersfield, CA - May 25, 2014) – Today, Bakersfield dermatologist and educational philanthropist, Dr. Norman Levan, died at home, surrounded by family and friends. He was 98.
Dr. Levan’s health had been failing in recent months, and he was most recently treated at the Bakersfield Heart Hospital until longtime nurse and friend Carmen Shaad made the decision to bring Dr. Levan home for his final days. Dr. Levan died with his longtime friend Dr. Robert Allison, Mike Stepanovich, Dr. Sonya Christian, Ms. Shaad, and his medical team by his side.
“Dr. Levan recognized that education is key to a person’s life and made it possible for hundreds, if not thousands, of future Bakersfield residents to pursue their dreams. His scholarship endowment at the Bakersfield College Foundation was a huge investment, not only in BC, but in Bakersfield and Kern County as well,” said Stepanovich, Executive Director of the Bakersfield College Foundation. “I will certainly miss Norm and our frequent get-togethers, particularly our pizza Wednesdays. I will miss Norm and Bakersfield certainly will too.”
Dr. Norman Levan was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland in 1916. After attending primary schools in Detroit, his mother relocated the family to live with an older sister in Detroit when he was in the 10th grade. He graduated from high school and attended college at the University of Southern California. On a whim, he decided to take entrance exams to USC’s medical school, and surprised himself by earning the highest score the school had ever seen. The USC program included practicum at the county hospital, and Dr. Levan learned from helping other doctors with their cases.
In 2012, Dr. Levan retired from his downtown Bakersfield dermatology practice, and ended his 73-year career, 55 years of which he treated patients in Bakersfield. At the age of 96, Dr. Levan was still seeing patients once a week up until his retirement.
Dr. Levan is perhaps most known for his philanthropic efforts. In 2011, Dr. Levan made a $14 million donation to the Bakersfield College Foundation to support student scholarships and educational services. Dr. Levan had previously donated $5.7 million to Bakersfield College in 2006. When combined, the two gifts increased Dr. Levan’s overall donation to nearly $20 million, $10 million higher than any gift from an individual on record. Levan was honored in 2013 with a 100 Stars medal by Bakersfield College, in recognition of his long-lasting impact on education in the greater Bakersfield area.
“Dr. Levan’s impact on Bakersfield College will be felt for generations to come. Dr. Levan believed in the importance of the humanities in enriching lives and developing future problem solvers and thinkers, and as a result established the Norman Levan Center for the Humanities at Bakersfield College. The Center has made an indelible impression on the community, particularly for our first generation students,” said Dr. Sonya Christian, President of Bakersfield College. “Bakersfield College is forever indebted to our past president, Dr. John Collins, a close friend of Dr. Levan, who first introduced Dr. Levan to Bakersfield College and the diverse community of students we serve. The Levan Institute of Lifelong Learning is a living symbol of his personal love of learning and his gift to this community."
In 2011, Dr. Levan donated $12 million to St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The gift, combined with previous donations of $5 million and $2 million, made Levan the single greatest benefactor in the history of St. John’s in Santa Fe. $10 million of Levan’s bequest to St. John’s College funds student financial aid, with another $665,000 to pay for scholarships for students from Kern County to attend St. John’s.
“Norm Levan was a great believer in the value of education and especially of liberal education, and he exemplified that in his life, and St John was honored to have him as an alumnus,” Michael Peters, President of St. John’s College.
“Norm Levan’s generosity to St. John’s College made a tremendous difference at our Santa Fe campus and in the lives of our students. Dr. Levan provided so much as an expression of the love he had for the education from which he benefited,” said Victoria Mora, Vice President of St. John’s College, who has known Dr. Levan for seven years. “He has given so generously to ensure financial considerations would not preclude any student from obtaining the education he felt was so important. He understood how important liberal education is for our country, and he will be missed.”
Dr. Levan’s generosity was also felt at the University of Southern California, where he donated $10 million for student scholarships and $2 million to endow a chair in medical ethics. Levan also gave $6 million to the University of Southern California in 2007 to establish the Levan Institute of Humanities and Ethics, a similar institute as that which his gifts established at Bakersfield College.
“Dr. Levan was a wonderful physician, educator, intellectual, and philanthropist. This is a really sad day for the Trojan family and I am really sad to lose my friend Norman,” said Clara Driscoll, Senior Executive Director of Gifts Planning at the Keck School of Medicine at USC.
A memorial service will be held at the lawn north of the Norman Levan Center for the Humanities at Bakersfield College on Wednesday, May 28 at 11 a.m. Dr. Levan will be interred at the National Cemetery in Arvin.
Dr. Levan’s family and friends ask for privacy at this time of sadness, and have designated Amber Chiang to speak on their behalf. Please direct and questions or requests for interviews to Amber Chiang at 794-9684.
Biography for Dr. Norman Levan
Dr. Norman Levan was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland in 1916. After attending primary schools in Detroit, his mother relocated the family to live with an older sister in Detroit when he was in the 10th grade. He graduated from high school there and attended college at the University of Southern California.
When he was a literature major at USC in 1935, he saw many fellow students applying to medical school. On a whim, he decided to take the test, and surprised himself by earning a rather high score – the highest that the school had ever seen. Upon telling his brother-in-law that he intended to get an English degree and pursue higher education, his brother-in-law teased him about his future.
“He told me that I was going to be like my sisters with that English degree,” Levan laughed. “Either a school teacher or writing classified ads for The Herald.”
When being interviewed by the dean of the medical school at USC on March 16, the day before his 19th birthday in 1935, he brazenly explained that he hadn’t taken sciences because they were dull. He was accepted with the provision that he take Organic Chemistry in summer school.
“It didn’t matter really, we were lucky, because although the first year and a half the sciences were on the campus, we were at the county hospital for the rest of the training,” said Levan.
The county hospital provided real-life experiences with the 3,000 beds there, all full, so students were able to experience the field without extensive book learning. The teaching was done by voluntary faculty who practiced in the community. He learned from being with the doctors and helping them with their cases.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Levan continued. “I was paid $10 a month.”
Levan was called to service in his second year of internship, Nov. 4, 1940. He remembers the date because it was the date President Franklin Roosevelt was reelected for the third time. He served as a Medical Officer in the Army until the end of WWII, for nearly five years, three and a half of which were in the Central Pacific. Dr. Levan experienced the full fury of the battle of Okinawa, the last battle of WWII.
Following WWII, he returned to school at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a summer class, but ended up staying four more summers.
Levan was married to a woman he met playing tennis in Hollywood. Betty passed in 2005 at the age of 87. They spent their early married years in Los Angeles. They continued to enjoy tennis throughout marriage, and Betty was a master bridge player who could trump the best of opponents.
He later returned to USC as their first professor of dermatology. They created a program for him and he became a member of the enormous faculty in a very active department. When he retired at the age of 65, his arrangements with USC were he could practice anywhere he wanted. He didn’t want to practice somewhere that people were just seeing him because of his title or the city his office was in.
On a drive one cloudy June day, he visited Bakersfield, and stopped at the Bakersfield Inn, where the community pool was being frequented by several Bakersfield doctors.
“They made it very inviting to come up here,” Levan said. “In retrospect, it wasn’t the wisest move because of the climate.”
After visiting Bakersfield to see patients one day a week, fellow doctors helped find a home and an office for the final move to Bakersfield in 1980.
“I was very lucky,” Levan laughed. USC put 8 percent of his salary in TIAA each year. He matched the investment. “This was when the stock market was 400, so the money came from no brains of mine, but from the enormous increase of the stocks.”
Levan formally closed his Bakersfield practice in 2012, and set about two more years of reading and learning, practices which he continued up until his death on May 25, 2014.