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President Milton A. Gordon praises Nicholas and Lee Begovich for their “exceptional philanthropic commitment to the Fullerton community and to Cal State Fullerton.” Photo by Karen Tapia

Standing Ovation

Lee and Nicholas Begovich Applaud Student Talent

April 20, 2010

By Paula Selleck

On some evenings when the University Orchestra is performing in the Meng Concert Hall, one couple sits alone in the balcony, basking in the virtuosity of the student musicians.

Lee and Nicholas Begovich watch every concert they attend in the Clayes Performing Arts Center from a box that bears their name. And they rarely miss a concert, even though they also are subscribers to concert series at LA’s Disney Concert Hall and the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

They are so enamored of the “unbelievable talent” that regularly fills Meng Concert Hall with music and graces the many stages of the Clayes Performing Arts Center that they are among the most frequent attendees of theatrical productions and concerts there.

For a couple that finds such joy in the arts and such appreciation for young artists, they cannot understand why there are not more sold-out performances at the Clayes Center.

They want other community members to share the experience and point out that it can be theirs for a fraction of the cost of tickets at high-profile venues.

“The value for dollar in what we receive in Fullerton far exceeds what the others offer,” Nicholas said.

Their devotion to support for students is such that their latest gift of $1 million extends their generosity to the visual arts sector of the College of the Arts; no part of the college has been without their support.

Lee Begovich sits in the chair she occupies outside the gallery when she serves as a docent. She’s holding the clicker she uses to count patrons as they arrive. Photo by Karen Tapia

Since the 1960s, and since her retirement from teaching, Lee has spent many of her days in what formerly was known as the Main Art Gallery. From now on, when she arrives to serve as a volunteer docent there, she will enter the Nicholas and Lee Begovich Gallery — a space perhaps more familiar to her than any other on campus.

She has taken many classes in art history over the years to enhance her knowledge and was among a local group of American Association of University Women who orchestrated the hire of the campus’s first art historian, in part, to help prepare themselves for volunteering as docents.

That enthusiasm for art and for education must have rubbed off on her children. One of Lee’s twin daughters, born in 1960, became an undergraduate at CSUF and majored in art. Cynthia Carlson (B.A. art ’84) is now an architect; her twin sister, Ann, is a law professor and co-director of the environmental law clinic at UCLA. Both were seated in the front row for the April 9 dedication. A third daughter, Jill, lives in Colorado and is director of testing for San Juan College in Farmington, N.M.

The Couple

Married since 1998, the story of the couple’s union brings smiles to the faces of those who know them.

Lee offers that Nicholas’ first wife, Joan, “was one of my best friends.” Years after their spouses had passed away, Lee and Nicholas tied the knot, and their friends couldn’t be happier for them.

Nicholas’ involvement with the campus goes back even farther than Lee’s and started with Joan. She was a student of William Langsdorf when he taught at Occidental College, before becoming president of Pasadena City College.

When Langsdorf was named the founding president of Orange County State College, she and Nicholas were among those who welcomed the newcomer to their city. A few years later, both were serving on lay advisory committees for the new campus — she for the Music Advisory Committee and he for the Engineering Advisory Committee.

“That’s how I got involved and how I met Miles McCarthy and became a part of that committee,” said Nicholas, who credits Langsdorf for the institution’s solid foundation, “why the university is what it is today.”

Old Friends

Dottie and James Young and Jerry and Mary Lou Samuelson arrive for the April 9 dedication of the Nicholas and Lee Begovich Gallery. Photo by Karen Tapia

The pair’s connection to the institution goes back so far that they count such campus veterans as James Young, founding chair of the Theater and Dance Department, and his wife Dottie, and retired College of the Arts Dean Jerry Samuelson and his wife, Mary Lou, among their circle of friends.

Lee, who taught first-grade classes for two decades in Fullerton, speaks proudly of her now-grown former students, including the twin sons of Jerry and Mary Lou Samuelson. And Mary Lou was among Lee’s classroom volunteers of decades ago.

Speaking at the dedication for the renamed gallery, Nicholas announced to the audience that two words describe the reason for their $1 million gift to the Art Department: “Jerry Samuelson.”

As a faculty member in the 1960s, Samuelson launched the first on-campus gallery, and Lee was among the members of the Art Alliance who served as docents.

It the 2008-09 academic year, when Samuelson announced his retirement after more then four decades at Cal State Fullerton, including 34 as dean, a fundraising campaign was launched to raise gifts as a tribute. The Begoviches were the first to make a commitment to the campaign.

Donors Nicholas and Lee Begovich have front-row seats for the April 9 ceremony. Photo by Karen Tapia

Now their name in affixed to elements of all three segments of the College of the Arts — music, theatre and dance and visual arts.

Reflecting on a recent visit to the Clayes Performing Arts Center, the couple were delighted to see Meng Concert Hall packed for the recent Collage Concert and noticed that many in the audience raised their hands when asked if it was their first time in there. The pair were not at all surprised when the enthusiastic audience gave the students a standing ovation.

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