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Wednesday, Dec 05 2012 12:15 AM

Immigrant farming family donates $2 million to local hospital

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    By Photo courtesy of Kevin Fahey

    Ninety-five-year-old family patriarch Lajpat Rai Munger, who immigrated from India to California in 1966, poses with his sons, Baldev (David) Munger and Kewel (Kable) Munger. The farm founded by the elder Munger has grown to become one of the largest fresh blueberry operations in the world.

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    These Republic of India passport photos, dated May 1966, show Lajpat Rai Munger and his wife, Kailash Wati Munger, as they must have looked on the eve of their immigration to the United States.

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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

They've given millions of dollars over the years to build and support schools and hospitals in India and the United States.

But not once have they asked to have a project branded with their family name.

Related Info

Bakersfield Memorial Hospital, Sarvanand Heart and Stroke Center

* A $2 million donation from Lajpat Rai Munger, David (Baldev) and Kable (Kewel) Munger, specifically for the expansion of cardiovascular services at Dignity Health-Bakersfield Memorial Hospital.

* The Munger Family is offering this gift in the name of their guru, Swami Sarvanand Gir. In his early teenage years, Lajpat Munger began following the teachings of his guru, whose philosophy of life expressed righteousness, hard work, compassion, charity, honesty, and brotherhood.

* The Sarvanand Heart & Stroke Center will include:

1. Cardiac catheterization lab

2. Bi-plane interventional radiology suite (to be completed in January 2013)

3. Hybrid endovascular catheterization lab (construction scheduled to begin in 2014)

4. Cardiac rehabilitation department

* The complement of specialized technology will provide patients and physicians access to clinical resources and services that have been limited or unavailable in Kern County. For the first time, pediatric cardiology patients will be able to receive treatment locally.

* The hybrid capabilities of the new endovascular lab -- an integration of cath lab and operating room -- significantly reduce the amount of risk to the patient, when a non-emergency procedure suddenly becomes an emergency surgery situation, by enabling an instant switch from a catheter procedure to surgery.

* The hybrid lab project is currently in design development, with construction drawings expected by February 2013. Pending state licensing approvals, construction is expected to begin in June 2014 and to be completed by March 2015.

Source: Bakersfield Memorial Hospital

Now their generosity is coming home to Kern County in a big way. The Munger family, a successful farming family that immigrated from India to California in the mid-1960s, is providing a $2 million gift to Bakersfield Memorial Hospital that is expected to greatly enhance the care Memorial provides to heart and stroke patients.

The donation will be announced today at a ceremony to be held at the hospital. And true to form, the medical facility financed by the family's generosity will not be named the Munger Cardiac and Stroke Center.

"Success is not measured in material things," said 52-year-old Kewel Munger, who goes by the name Kable. "It's what you do for others."

"It's not what you have in this world," echoed Kable's 55-year-old brother Baldev, who goes by David.

Instead, the expanded facility will be named Sarvanand Heart and Stroke Center, in honor of Swami Sarvanand Gir, a guru the Munger family patriarch, 95-year-old Lajpat Rai Munger, began following while still in his early teens in his home state of Punjab.

The Mungers credit the guru's teachings and his approach to life for their success. By working hard and doing good deeds, they say they are simply sending good things out into the world that, through Karma, will be returned to them in myriad ways.

But for Memorial, the donation will mean making its cardiovascular services among "the best the country has to offer," said Memorial CEO and President Jon Van Boening.

The specialized technology and redesigned patient care areas will provide patients and physicians access to clinical resources and services that have been limited -- or unavailable -- in Kern County. For the first time, for example, children with severe heart problems will be able to receive treatment locally.

"We're obviously very grateful," Van Boening said of the donation and the changes it will bring locally. "This will be a great addition to our cardiac and stroke programs."

FROM INDIA TO KERN COUNTY

The decision by Lajpat Rai Munger to bring his family to California in 1966 would set in motion a transformation that continues to this day.

During a phone interview Friday with the two Munger brothers while they were traveling in Chile on business, David and Kable Munger remembered as children there were plenty of challenges and difficulties the family faced early on. Just two of seven Munger siblings, the sons are responsible for much of the growth of Munger Farms after their father retired from the day to day running of the business. And a huge business it has become.

The farm founded by the elder Munger has grown to become the largest fresh blueberry operation in the world, said Cliff Wooley, the farm's chief administrative officer.

The farm also produces pistachios and almonds. But with blueberry production in Delano, Stockton, Washington state and Mexico, the farm is able to take advantage of an ever-lengthening growing season.

The family made a lot of smart business choices over the years, Wooley said. But he attributes much of their success to their honesty and the trust that generates with business partnerships and customers.

"They are living the American dream," he said.

For David and Kable, the donations simply mean they must work harder to finance the gift.

But the gift, they say, is not really a gift at all. It's just what they do. It's part of life for the Munger clan.

"We believe God resides in everyone," David said. "So always treat people as you would treat God."

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