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Art of Giving

Fullerton Couple’s $1 Million Gift Prompts Gallery Naming

Nicholas and Lee Begovich. Photo by Karen Tapia

In recognition of their significant contributions to Cal State Fullerton, including a $1 million gift to the Art Department, Lee and Nicholas Begovich will be honored by the university April 9 when the Main Art Gallery is renamed the Nicholas and Lee Begovich Gallery during a special celebration.

The couple have been residents of Fullerton since the 1950s and involved at Cal State Fullerton as volunteers and supporters since the 1960s.

“They have given so much of their time and energy to the university, particularly in the arts, that it is with great pleasure and admiration for them that we name the university’s premier art gallery in their honor,” said Cal State Fullerton President Milton A. Gordon.

The couple’s overall donations to the university exceed $1.12 million, enhancing multiple endowments that benefit scholarships, the Pollak Library and the arts.

Their $1 million gift is designated for an endowed fund to provide support for art exhibitions, artists-in residence, fellowships and scholarships.

“This substantial gift represents an unparalleled confidence in the future of the Art Department,” said Larry Johnson, professor of art who chairs the department. “It is fitting that we are giving a new name to the Main Art Gallery in honor of this couple. Lee has and continues to serve as a docent, greeting students and their teachers, as well as campus and community members, to the four major exhibitions held there each year. She and Nick are among our most faithful and generous patrons.”

This painting by Leo Robinson is from the collection of former department chair Darryl Curran. It is among the works featured in the newly christened Nicholas and Lee Begovich Gallery.

Lee and Nicholas Begovich

Lee, a former first-grade teacher, is the longest continuing member of the CSUF Art Alliance, which raises funds for Art Department scholarships and installations of major sculptures on campus. She served as president of the organization in 1988.

Since 1991, she has been president of the university’s Coordinating Council of Support Groups, an umbrella organization for the university’s various affinity groups. In 2001, during the annual Volunteers of the Year program, Lee received special recognition for her years of service as CCSG president.

Nicholas, who holds three degrees in electrical engineering from Caltech, including a doctorate, is the retired vice president of the ground systems group for Hughes Aircraft. He started the company’s airborne and ground base division. He also led the division’s move from Culver City to Fullerton in 1957, the year Cal State Fullerton was founded, bringing with him about 100 employees. Years later, the division grew to a workforce of 14,000.

Nicholas’ involvement with the university began in the early 1960s when he served on the Engineering Advisory Committee. He was among executives with technical backgrounds offering counsel to Miles D. McCarthy, then chairman of the Science, Mathematics and Engineering Division, who later served as acting university president.

As longtime members of the President’s Associates, the couple also have given $5,000 annually to build the President’s Scholars Endowment Fund. In addition to the Art Alliance, they are members of the Music Associates and MAMM Alliance for the Performing Arts.

The art gallery is the latest campus entity to bear the Begovich name.

Endangered Young Raptor, 1985 This handmade oak gall ink on gesso panel, “Endangered Young Raptor,” by the late Joachim (Vic) Smith, is on loan from the Laguna Art Museum.

“Their support for the arts is evident in the Clayes Performing Arts Center, where they are familiar faces at our concerts and theater and dance performances,” said Joseph Arnold, dean of the College of the Arts.

The Lee and Nicholas A. Begovich Scenic Laboratory is part of the Clayes Center, where their $60,000 gift also served to underwrite a box in the Meng Concert Hall.

High Praise

“We participate because of the quality of the performances and our general philosophy about the importance of supporting students,” said Lee.

Both use the term “fantastic” to describe the quality of the student performers, and see audience members as participants in the educational process.

“You’re in the audience for your own enjoyment, and you are also contributing to the education of the person on the other side of the stage,” Nicholas said. “These are laboratories for them; that’s how they hone their skills.”

Last year, when the retirement of Jerry Samuelson was announced and a fundraising campaign was launched to mark his 34 years of service as dean of the university’s College of the Arts, the Begoviches were the first to make a commitment, setting the stage for many others to give, noted Milly Heaton, director of development for the College of the Arts.

“Lee and Nick have gone from outstanding volunteers to outstanding philanthropists,” she said. “They are passionate about everything the College of the Arts does and every aspect of the arts.”

Samuelson has witnessed that passion over the course of nearly five decades — from Lee’s early days as a gallery volunteer — when he was the gallery director — to the Begoviches ongoing attendance at the full spectrum of College of the Arts events.

When it comes to the performing arts and the visual arts, “they are firmly planted in both areas,” Samuelson said. “In fact, I’m not sure there’s anybody else who has been so dramatically supportive in both areas. There are those who love music, or the visual arts, or the theater, but these two . . . support it all.”

Dorte Christjansen
“Green Thumb,” a 2002 watercolor by Dorte Christjansen, is among works by three female artists exhibited in the show.

One of the reasons the couple designated the Art Department for their latest gift is “there has been almost no gift giving in the visual arts compared to the performing arts,” Lee explained.

Opening Exhibition

On Friday, they will gather with other university supporters and arts patrons in the Visual Arts Courtyard for a 5 p.m. reception and 5:30 p.m. naming ceremony. Attendees will have a chance to preview the first exhibition featured in the Nicholas and Lee Begovich Gallery — “Art Department Faculty: The First Generation,” which opens Saturday and showcases works by 23 original and early members of the faculty.

“This exhibition highlights artwork by the artists who were responsible for laying the groundwork for building an exceptional art department at Cal State Fullerton,” said Mike McGee, gallery director. “We organized this exhibition in conjunction with the renaming of the gallery because I think the Begovich gift has a lot — if not everything — to do with the first generation of faculty. Their vision and dedication created a nationally respected art department and gallery program.”

The Begoviches’ generosity and past involvement extends to many other organizations and institutions, including:the American Association of University Women, Bowers Museum, Caltech, Children’s Hospital of Orange County’s Mother Goose Guild, Children’s League of North Orange County, Irvine Barclay Theatre, Night in Fullerton, St. Jude Medical Center, the YMCA and YWCA. Lee continues her involvement with the HU Chapter of P.E.O., a women’s philanthropic organization.

Media Contacts:
Milly Heaton, University Advancement, 657-278-7695
Paula Selleck, Public Affairs, 657-278-4856