Donor Stories

Our donors love CSU Dominguez Hills for many different reasons, and they've chosen to give to the university in a variety of ways. Their generous gifts create a lasting legacy for the campus community, and their stories can be enlightening and inspiring. Below, you will find brief profiles of some recent notable donors.

Sue-Gemmell-photoLongtime Educator Leaves a Lasting Legacy

Former professor Sue Gemmell dedicated over 40 years of her life to supporting CSUDH's committment to education. Gemmell, an Emerita Professor of Teacher Education, passed away in December, 2015 but she left behind a legacy of service for the students in the College of Education. 

"She loved this place. It was home to her," says fellow Emerita Professor of Teacher Education Diana Wolff about her longtime friend and colleague. 

Gemmell joined CSUDH in 1974 as Associate Dean of Students. In 1977, she was named Dean of the CSUDH University College, and moved into the dual positions of Vice President for Student Affairs and Professor of Graduate Education in 1985. She retired from full-time teaching in 1988. 

Remembered by her peers as a woman who invested in student success, Gemmell kept detailed records, and did not mince words. She also had a dry sense of humor, loved laughing with friends, attended the opera and symphony, and enjoyed learning new things by exploring the world. 

Longtime friend and Emeritus Mathematics Professor Jackson Henry chuckled as he remembered what Gemmell did when she discovered that her cancer had returned: she wanted her friends to throw a party instead of mourning at her funeral. Then she realized that she wanted to be at the party herself! "A Party to Die For," which she named herself, drew more than 100 invitees from all aspects of Gemmell's life to her home in Rancho Palos Verdes on December 7, 2015. 

Before she passed away, she made sure one of her final wishes was in place—a $250,000 planned gift to the Faculty Legacy Endowed Fund. 

The Faculty Legacy Endowed Fund awards mini-grants to current faculty members in support of their research and scholarly activities. It is administered by the Emeritus Faculty Association, of which Gemmell was an active member for many years. Her gift to the association—the largest donation to date will generate close to $10,000 each year, resulting in more and larger grants to faculty members. By including the university in her estate plans, Gemmell's affinity for CSUDH will continue to be felt by future generations of faculty and their students.

Philip-Johnson-photoEstablishing a Family Legacy

Philip Johnson was in his 50s when he retired from a successful career in the aerospace industry. He then began attending CSU Dominguez Hills in pursuit of a second bachelor's degree in physics. He was known for being exceptionally dedicated to learning as much as he could, while sharing his own considerable knowledge with his fellow students. He completed his degree in 1980. 

Philip Johnson's love for Dominguez Hills would become an inspiration to his family. "That's the reason the giving started," said Bruce Johnson, Philip's son. "When my dad died, my mom, Yvonne Johnson, gave the university a financial donation to honor his memory." Her gift established the Philip Johnson Endowed Scholarship in Physics, created with a Charitable Gift Annuity. Bruce has added a $225,000 gift annuity to the scholarship. 

"The gift annuity program worked out really well for my mom. She was in her mid-80s when it began and she received a high interest rate on her investment," said Phil. "It was good for Dominguez Hills, good for my mom, and an eternal tribute to my father." 

Bruce inherited his mother's house when she passed in 2010. He knew that an endowment similar to the one she established for Phil would be a meaningful way to honor her and a Charitable Gift Annuity would be a smart move for his own future. Bruce sold the house and established a $200,000 gift annuity at CSU Dominguez Hills to create a music scholarship to honor the role that music played in three generations of his family. His great-grandparents, grandmother, and mother all taught piano. In fact, his mother Yvonne continued to strengthen her own talents by taking piano lessons up until her death.

"For me, the gift annuity payout rate was much better than putting the sale proceeds in a CD," said Bruce Johnson. "The gift annuity allowed me to simplify my life and forget the stress of watching the market go up and down." 

"I could not have asked for better parents," he added. "I feel like I won the lottery twice with both my mom and dad. They were both examples of how to do things right. Endowing scholarships at CSUDH gives people a chance. I like to reward people who have talent and are in financial need. Others have done that for me, and it makes a difference."

Tsuyoshi-Roy-Nakai-photoGaman in the Face of Tragedy

In the Library of Congress archives, there's a 1943 photograph of a baby boy sitting on his mother's lap. The image was taken by Ansel Adams while he was documenting life at the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California's Owens Valley, where Japanese Americans were sent during WWII. That little boy is Tsuyoshi Roy Nakai. He was born in the camp, and he grew to understand the Japanese term used by the internees, gaman, which means "to persevere." 

Perseverance has been the byword in Nakai's life. When the camp closed in 1945, his family moved back home to Lake Elsinore and ran a hot springs spa. Nakai excelled in academics in high school, and went on to become a pediatric dentist. He also became a proud father to his only child, Leslie. All had commenced as planned, until a series of life-changing events altered his path. 

"In 1993, a dental chair fell and crushed two of my fingers, and one finger was amputated on my dominant hand," said Nakai. He could not be insured, so he sold his dental practice and reinvented himself with a career in computer software and by putting his energy into being Leslie's dad. He went to her soccer and tennis games and encouraged her as she worked toward her undergraduate degree in communications at CSUDH. 

"Leslie had a wonderful time at Dominguez Hills," said Nakai. "She wanted to work in radio and television." She graduated in May 2000, but just seven months later, at the age of 25, she suffered a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day. She died 11 days later. Leslie had a lifelong heart condition, but several successful treatments and surgeries had allowed her to be very active throughout most of her life. Her death was a terrible shock. "I lost my way after that, and went into therapy," said Nakai. He had to find a way to bring gaman back into his life. 

If you meet Nakai today, you cannot imagine the tragedies he has endured. In the last 15 years, he has turned his anguish into purposeful action by helping others. In 2009, he published the self-help book, Elephant a la Mode: An Epicurean Guide to Life. The title is a a play on the old joke: "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." The book includes notes to Leslie, filled with life lessons. He followed it a year later with more "father's insights" in his second book, Oh Butterfly, By the Way. He founded a summer camp for children and is an avid supporter of Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego and The San Diego Foundation. 

In 2001, Nakai established the Leslie Nakai Memorial Scholarship Fund at CSU Dominguez Hills. Since that time, he's donated $60,000 toward the fund, which provides $5,000 in scholarships to communications students each year. Ultimately, his trust will provide annual donations in perpetuity to CSUDH through The San Diego Foundation. 

"Leslie got a lot out of attending Dominguez Hills, and I want to honor her memory," he said. "I present the award to the students at the communications banquet, and I meet every recipient. I know the scholarship is meaningful to them." 

Nakai hopes the financial assistance these students get from Leslie's fund will help them to persevere in life—the gift of gaman. "My aim is that because someone helped them, these students will also give back. Each person's small contribution adds up."