A retired art teacher and her husband, a former phone company technician, left Cal State Northridge $7.3 million for scholarships, the largest cash gift in the university's history, school officials announced this week.
Mary Bayramian, who died in 2001, graduated from the school in 1963, when it was San Fernando Valley State College. After retirement, she and her husband, Jack, who died in January, successfully invested in real estate.
"They lived the American dream," Don Barsumian, one of the Bayramians' nephews and the trustee of their estate, said of his aunt and uncle, both children of Armenian immigrants who fled Turkey in the early 20th century to escape persecution.
"Hard work, integrity, saving and investing," he added. "You know in books how they talk about how to get from here to there? They did it."
Cal State Northridge President Jolene Koester said the donation from the Bayramians' estate "was just a very wonderful recognition for us of the strength of Cal State Northridge and what we mean to people who attended the university. It will help us attract top students, but it also will help us support the excellent students we already have."
The Cal State board of trustees voted unanimously Wednesday to name Northridge's student services building after the couple.
Their cash donation surpasses the $7 million given by Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner in 2002, though it wasn't the largest donation the university has received. In 2003, businessman Roland Tseng, who briefly attended the school in the 1970s, pledged to donate Chinese antiquities valued at $38 million.
Barsumian described his aunt as a "World War II wife" who had survived the lean times of the Depression as a child, married young and settled with her husband in the San Fernando Valley, first in Reseda and later in Northridge, near the Cal State campus. The couple had one son, Ronald, who died in 1998.
Attending college "was an opportunity for her," Barsumian said. Mary Bayramian enrolled at San Fernando Valley State College in 1960. After graduating, Bayramian taught art at San Fernando High School, where she was known by students as "Mrs. B" until she retired in 1970.
Jack Bayramian was a World War II naval veteran and worked as a vacuum cleaner salesman and electrician after the war. He later worked as a technician for Pacific Telephone and Telegraph.
The Bayramians moved in 1971 to Laguna Beach, where they lived for the next 30 years, buying, renovating and selling homes.
"My uncle, he was a very handy kind of a guy, and he did carpeting and electric work," Barsumian, 71, said. "Mary was an artistic person, so she would do the interiors and decorating.... They'd fix [homes] up and resell them and move on to another one and another one and another one.
"They did quite well in their retirement."
The Bayramians are survived by five grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.
University spokesman John Chandler said the endowment will establish the Bayramian Family Scholarship Fund. The earnings from $5 million of the fund will support the newly named Bayramian Presidential Scholar awards, merit-based scholarships of $5,000 for high-achieving students, he said.
Earnings from the remaining $2.3 million will fund the Mary Bayramian Arts Scholars program.