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Campus to Receive $5-Million Endowment

Education: Developer Martin Smith offers bequest to provide scholarships, reward teaching and fund other projects at Cal State Channel Islands.


Oxnard developer Martin V. "Bud" Smith announced plans Wednesday to provide a $5-million endowment for Ventura County's public university, money that will be used to launch academic programs at the Cal State Channel Islands campus.

The gift, the second such donation in the past six months, will be funneled from Smith's estate to the university as a bequest by the 83-year-old real estate mogul whose empire once included the Fisherman's Wharf commercial complex at Channel Islands Harbor and the Oxnard Financial Plaza.

The money is being set aside in an interest-bearing trust that is expected to generate $8 million for the university over the next two decades.

A portion of the earnings will be used to reward faculty members for superior teaching, provide scholarships and establish an endowed chair to study local land-use issues--the first step toward creating a university think tank to explore development issues confronting Ventura County.

Money will also be available for discretionary use by university President Handel Evans to pursue new academic projects.

"This gift is an incredible investment in the future of CSU Channel Islands," said Evans, who has seen private contributions for the fledgling campus reach nearly $11 million.

"What this money allows me to do is begin planning for the university apart from bricks and mortar," he said. "This money will allow us to establish the base for the quality of the education at the university."

Smith's endowment matches the largest donation to the Channel Islands campus, a $5-million pledge last fall by Oxnard rancher John S. Broome.

Broome's money will be used to establish a library and media center on the campus, now under development at the former Camarillo State Hospital complex.

Taken together, those gifts amount to more than the total donations received in fiscal year 1998-99 at 15 of the university system's 22 other campuses.

And when added to the hundreds of smaller donations that have poured in from across the county, it underscores the community's ongoing commitment to getting the university up and running, campus officials say.

"We just have something very special here and people want to be a part of it," said Elizabeth Stacey, the university's fund-raising director.

As one of the county's most prominent real estate investors and developers, Smith once owned more than 200 properties between Santa Maria and Calabasas.

His portfolio included the Lobster Trap Restaurant at Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard, the nearby Casa Sirena Marina Resort and the 21-story Financial Plaza tower--the tallest building between Los Angeles and San Jose.

Smith sold most of his holdings about four years ago, enjoying a life of semi-retirement while still maintaining an office with about 20 staff members who manage about a dozen properties.


He has also stayed involved in philanthropic activities, serving as former board director of United Way, American Cancer Society and St. John's Regional Medical Center.

Smith could not be reached Wednesday for comment, but said in a prepared statement that he is committed to helping local students continue their education in Ventura County.

"Oxnard and Ventura County have been very good to my family and me," he said. "I can think of no better way to repay the opportunities that have been afforded me than to ensure that future generations may avail themselves of the educational opportunities that will be offered by CSUCI."

As with Broome's donation, Evans said he plans to ask the CSU board of trustees in coming months to formally recognize Smith's generosity.

CSU trustees agreed in September to name the library building after Broome, and Evans did not rule out a similar honor for Smith.

Those who know Smith best said he would be flattered by such recognition, but is largely uncomfortable about any publicity surrounding his gift to the developing campus.

"He has always been very unassuming but also very caring about people who have not had the same opportunities that he has had," said Sue VanCamp, vice president of Smith's real estate firm.

Smith's donation comes in the form of an irrevocable bequest and will eventually flow into the university's endowment, maintained by the Cal State Channel Islands Foundation.

The initial $5 million will remain in the endowment in perpetuity, producing interest that will be used to pay for academic programs.

A portion of the earnings will be divided among the areas that Smith has indicated, including the Martin V. Smith Award for Teaching Excellence and the Martin V. Smith Scholars program to enable the university to recruit, reward and retain top students.


Such incentives are crucial to university planners as they attempt to craft a cutting-edge curriculum for the campus, one certain to define the new facility and launch it into the next decade.

Just as important, university boosters say Smith's contribution addresses a larger need to demonstrate that the developing campus continues to maintain solid community support.

"It says exactly what we've been saying for a long time: This county really needs this university and people are willing to put their money where their mouths are," said Carolyn Leavens, a Ventura farmer and business leader who worked for years to bring a Cal State campus to Ventura County.

"It's outstanding that people of vision have been among the first to step up," she said. "It certainly tells you that we are on our way."

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