Local News

Monday, May 26 2014 09:12 PM

Local philanthropist remembered as kind, intelligent

  1. 1 of 6

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    In May 2011, former Bakersfield College president John Collins, left, shares laugh with Dr. Norman Levan before the groundbreaking ceremonies for the the new Norman Levan Center for the Humanities at Bakersfield College.

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    By Robert Allison, director of the Levan Institute for Lifelong Learning

    In this 2009 photo, Bakersfield dermatologist Dr. Norman Levan performs an office surgical procedure on his friend and long-time patient John Collins, the retired president of Bakersfield College.

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  3. 3 of 6

    By Robert Allison, director of the Levan Institute for Lifelong Learning

    Dr. Norman Levan is shown in his Bakersfield medical office in March 2011. The 93-year-old dermatologist donated nearly $6 million to Bakersfield College. It was the largest donation Bakersfield College has ever received.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Longtime Bakersfield resident Norman Levan was excited about being honored in August 2011 at Little Italy Restaurant for his contributions to higher education. Jim Osterholt, vice preisdent of St. John's College in Sante Fe, New Mexico, was on hand to give Levan a certificate on behalf of the college. In the past five years, Levan has given $7 million to St. John's, his alma mater.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Pictured at age 96 in 2012, Dr. Norman Levan retired from the practice of dermatology.

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    By Bakersfield College archives

    In 2010, the Levan Center at Bakersfield College was dedicated. Dr. Norman Levan is seated in a wheelchair, Mike Stepanovich is speaking, and then college President Greg Chamberlain is at right.

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BY RUTH BROWN Californian staff writer rbrown@bakersfield.com

As a humble, quiet, generous and kind man, Norman Levan most importantly loved helping others.

Dr. Levan, a longtime Bakersfield dermatologist and philanthropist, died in his home Sunday at age 98.

Robert Allison, his friend of more than 25 years, was there when Levan died. Allison is also the director of the Levan Institute for Lifelong Learning at Bakersfield College, named in honor of his friend and colleague. Levan had donated nearly $20 million to the college.

"He was a contributor to mankind in many different ways. As a physician, as a philanthropist, as a teacher and as a researcher," Allison said. "He was the kind of person who wants to make a difference in the world."

Levan was a dermatologist for 73 years, 55 of which were in Bakersfield, and he continued to treat patients until he was 96.

Carmen Schaad knew him for 45 years, and the pair become great friends when she worked for him. She was Levan's nurse and former office manager. She also cared for him as his health declined, feeding him breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for three years.

Levan's wife, Betty, died at 87 in 2005.

Schaad said Levan was a talented physician and always seemed sensitive to patients' needs.

"He wanted them to feel at ease because that was part of the healing process," Schaad said.

He was also one of the only dermatologists in Bakersfield who accepted Medi-Cal, and if a patient couldn't afford services he would discount costs and allow them to make payments, Schaad said.

His generosity was well known in the community. Learning and supporting education was important to him.

On the wall of his Bakersfield office always hung a quote from Levan reading "Educate yourself unceasingly -- for from your knowledge you make not only your living, but your life," said Schaad.

Levan was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and attended high school in Detroit.

In 2011, he donated $14 million to the Bakersfield College Foundation to support scholarships and educational services. In 2006 he donated $5.7 million to BC.

The combined donations exceeded any other gift made to the college by more than $10 million, according to a news release from BC.

The Norman Levan Center for Humanities at BC was named in his honor.

He also gave $10 million for student scholarships to the University of Southern California, where he majored in English and earned his medical degree in 1939. Additionally, he gave $2 million to USC to endow a chair in medical ethics, and $6 million in 2007 to establish the Levan Institute of Humanities and Ethics.

He also donated millions to St. John's College in Santa Fe, N.M., and to a hospital in Jerusalem.

"I knew him very well and he was the kind of person interested not in money, but in the true value of an education and helping people better themselves and realize their potential," Allison said. "When he obtained some wealth, he used it in a very a positive way."

Jack Hernandez, director of the Norman Levan Center for Humanities, said he most remembers Levan enjoying life, even as he aged, and that generosity was a huge part of who he was as a person.

Levan recently attended the Bakersfield College Honor Reception on May 9 and sat with students.

"He was so animated and really enjoyed the students," Hernandez said.

Mary K. Shell, former Bakersfield mayor, had known Levan and his wife since they moved to Bakersfield more than 30 years ago.

"He was one of the most intelligent human beings that I have ever known. He really had a fabulous mind and was very well-read," Shell said. "He was a fascinating individual and his mind never stopped working."

Schaad said Levan was "incessantly" reading, and she estimated he had read thousands of books throughout his life.

He always had a positive attitude, friends said.

"He was a lot of fun and had a great sense of humor," Shell said. "Sometimes people as intelligent as Norman take themselves too seriously."

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