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Remembering Younes Nazarian, Philanthropist and Entrepreneur

March 23, 2022

Remembering Younes Nazarian, Philanthropist and Entrepreneur by Jenny Steinbeck, CSUN Today

Younes Nazarian, a passionate supporter of education and the arts and a principal supporter of CSUN’s Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts (The Soraya) has died. He was 91 years old.

“His legacy, represented by The Soraya, affirms our inherent connectedness, attuning our hearts and minds to what really matters – our humanity,” said CSUN President Erika D. Beck, in addressing the tremendous impact Nazarian had on the university.

Nazarian’s name is well known throughout the Los Angeles region and in Israel for the many programs established and funded through the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Family Foundation. In addition to The Soraya, the family helped establish UCLA’s Israel Studies Program and created an endowment that led to the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies. The family also founded the Nazarian Pavilion in the Doheny Library at the University of Southern California and helped build the Beit Midrash at Milken Community School.

Younes Nazarian was a successful entrepreneur in Iran who established an import/export company of construction machinery and equipment, which became one of the largest of its kind in the region. In 1979, he and his wife, Soraya Sarah Nazarian, and their four children came to the United States, fleeing the Iranian Revolution and religious persecution. Once in the U.S., he became a co-owner of Stadco, a specialty parts manufacturer in the aerospace industry. He was also an early investor and board member of Qualcomm, a leader in wireless telecommunications research and development.

The Nazarian family’s support for CSUN started in 2014 when their son, David, a prominent businessman, philanthropist and CSUN alumnus, made a transformative gift that was recognized by the naming of CSUN’s business college as the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics.  In 2016, Younes and Soraya donated 50 laptops to business students and were also title sponsors for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Nazarian College, an event that capped a two-year, $25 million fundraising drive for the college. In 2017, the Valley Performing Arts Center was re-named The Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, in honor of the couple’s $17 million gift in support of the Center’s programs and operations.

“Younes Nazarian came to guide a family of philanthropists who placed their values of education and the arts at the forefront of serving communities who might otherwise lack access to either,” said Thor Steingraber, executive director of The Soraya. “What an honor it is to come to work every day in the performing arts center that bears the name of Younes Nazarian, to welcome thousands of people to performances every month and to carry forward his vision and legacy.”

In 2016, when Younes and Soraya came to campus to donate laptop computers to business students, Younes cheerfully posed for selfies and shared a bit of his background with the young people at the event. “My father passed away when I was 2 years old,” he said. “We came to this country in ’79 (after the Islamic Revolution), with zero — scratch. [Soraya and I] wanted to build the best future for our four children, and now the nine grandchildren I have. You, also, are going to build your future. That’s why you have to rely on yourself. You have to work very hard. You have to build it yourself.”

The Nazarians also have sponsored scientific endeavors, including efforts to advance medical education at the Mayo Clinic and the MSR/Sheba Medical Center in Israel. Their philanthropy also has extended to Israel in support of the Jerusalem Academy of Music & Dance and the libraries at Hebrew University, Sapir Academic College and the University of Haifa.

In 2018, the CSU Board of Trustees and CSUN conferred the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters to Younes Nazarian; he also obtained an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Haifa. Younes received Israel’s highest honor of the Torch Lighting Ceremony on Mount Hertzl, generally only given to Israeli-born citizens, and was also the recipient of the 2011 Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

Younes Nazarian is survived by his wife, Soraya; four children David Nazarian, Shula Nazarian, Sharon Nazarian, and Sam Nazarian; daughters-in-law Angella and Emina; sons-in-law Fernando and Matt; eleven grandchildren Ariel, Aaron, Phillip, Elan, Sarah, Eli, Layla, Adam, Ella, Mia, Sha; and great-grandson Lev.