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Jewish Journal

Charity Makes Tamkin an ICON

by Nancy Sokoler Steiner

May 29, 2003 | 8:00 pm

ICON Award-winner Dr. S. Jerome Tamkin with his wife, Judith. Photo by Maxine Picard

ICON Award-winner Dr. S. Jerome Tamkin with his wife, Judith. Photo by Maxine Picard

Dr. S. Jerome Tamkin doesn't keep a little black book, but he does keep a large white binder. And if you're an educational, Jewish or health organization, you want to be listed there, because the binder tracks 32 organizations which Tamkin and his wife, Judith, have chosen to support through their Tamkin Foundation. And that's just the major projects. It also includes a list of more than 100 additional entities which receive donations from the foundation.

"My father was very charitable and my grandfather was very charitable. My grandfather used to say, 'There's one thing that all the money in the world won't buy -- a good name,'" said Tamkin, rushing back to his West Los Angeles office after attending a meeting of the Board of the UCLA Brain Mapping Center.

Although 77 years old and ostensibly retired, Tamkin devotes full-time hours to his charitable endeavors. He serves on the boards of the medical schools at UCLA and UC Irvine -- as well as the Scripps Medical and Science Foundation in La Jolla -- and is a trustee at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. He also keeps close tabs on the other Tamkin Foundation beneficiaries.

"I get my kicks helping direct, finance and check on the organizations I support," he said.

Tamkin says one of the most meaningful of his endeavors was his role as a founder of the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program. D.A.R.E. -- which brings uniformed police officers to speak with kindergartners through 12th-grade students about the dangers of drugs, gangs and violence -- reaches more than 36 million children annually.

In recognition of all his accomplishments, Tamkin will receive the UCLA Center on Aging's ICON Award at a June 7 tribute dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

"Jerry is very deserving of the ICON Award, which honors role models of successful aging," said Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Center on Aging. "He is someone who is vital, who is involved and who cares, and we're delighted to recognize him."

Although he has a strong interest in medicine, Tamkin's doctorate is in biochemistry. While still a college student, Tamkin worked as a lab chemist for a rubber manufacturer and developed a device that could prevent fires by detecting explosive gas mixtures before they ignited.

His invention earned him a commission as a U.S. Naval officer during World War II, after which he held a series of management positions in chemical, oil and medical equipment firms. He became involved in the hospital business after he, his father and a business partner acquired part ownership in a struggling local hospital. They eventually established American Medical International, one of the world's first and largest hospital and health care providers. After a merger, the company became Tenet Healthcare, where Tamkin continues as a retired director since 1988. He also serves as CEO of a private firm involved with oil and gas drilling.

The Tamkins, who have four grown children, focus the bulk of their monetary support on areas relating to education, health and Jewish continuity. Among the organizations on the Tamkin Foundation's "major projects" list are the Bureau of Jewish Education, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, Jewish Home for the Aging, Milken Community High School, the Skirball Cultural Center and the University of Judaism. The Tamkins also funded the Molecular Human Genetic Research Facility at The Technion in Israel, the Tamkin Functional Imaging Wing of the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Building at UCLA, the Tamkin Foundation Scholarship in the School of Medicine and the Tamkin Auditorium in the new UCLA Medical Center Replacement Hospital.

One of the Tamkins' most visible projects stands 41-feet high in the foyer of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. Skeletons of Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops engaged in combat, also known as "The Tamkin Dueling Dinosaurs," have become the museum's icon.

Judith Tamkin is also involved in the health care arena, although like her husband, she started in a different field. After a career in the fashion industry, she became a certified clinical hypnotherapist who works with terminally ill patients as a volunteer with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Involved in a host of social service endeavors, she helped found and currently directs a program for the Boy Scouts of America to involve disabled children in scouting.

Summing up the couple's activities, Tamkin said, "That's what we're interested in: Trying to help other people. You know what we think being Jewish is about? To make it a better world for everybody."

The ICON Award reception starts at 6:30, with dinner at 7:30 at The Beverly Hilton Hotel, 9876 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. For more information about the dinner, contact the UCLA Center on Aging at (310) 794-0676.

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