Sue and Ralph Stern are well-known for their widely diverse philanthropic interests that continue to expand each year, leaving a legacy of giving throughout Orange County. The Newport Beach couple has supported cancer research, Holocaust education, Jewish institutions and schools, a community center in Uganda, a clown program to entertain hospitalized children, the theater, a local empowerment program for girls, and science and engineering efforts, among others.
When it comes to philanthropy, the Sterns are philosophical about how they decide where to focus their efforts. Ralph Stern explained it this way: â€œWhen we decide to give, we consider three things. The first is the impact on the beneficiaries of the organization. The second thing is ‘What is the strength of the leadership of the organization?’ Leadership is critical. With a weak leader, itâ€™s like putting your money in a black hole, they will misspend it and wonâ€™t budget properly. With the right leader wonderful things happen. Thirdly, ‘Are we aligned with the purpose of the organization?’â€�
For their many years of giving and volunteering, the Sterns are being recognized this year locally with the Legacy Award on National Philanthropy Day. Orange Countyâ€™s top philanthropists will be honored at the 34th Annual National Philanthropy Day Awards Luncheon on Thursday, Nov. 14, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at City National Grove of Anaheim. The Register is the eventâ€™s Community Media Sponsor.
The Sterns, married for 50 years with three children and 10 grandchildren, also have learned over the years many important points about encouraging others to be philanthropic too. Oftentimes, says Ralph Stern, you just have to ask people to give, including â€” and especially â€” your friends.
The point, he said, is, â€œGetting that person to make that first commitment. Usually they do it because a friend asked them to do it. Once they get started, itâ€™s easier to get them involved.â€� He also said it matters who is doing the asking.
â€œWhat I have learned is that people give to people more so than they give to causes,â€� Ralph Stern said. â€œIf you and I are good friends and you ask me for money, it would be difficult for me to say no because you are my friend. Having the right person do the actual solicitation is critical.â€�
Sue Stern added that getting people involved with an organization as a volunteer is another way of encouraging philanthropy in others. Sheâ€™s been an active volunteer and board member for several years with Girls Inc., an advocacy and leadership program for girls. The Sterns have donated more than $6 million to Girls Inc. to expand its summer program for girls in middle school and Sue Stern recently mentored a young girl who graduated from UC Santa Barbara. Girls Inc. holds two big functions each year and getting people to attend an event often brings in new volunteers or donors, Sue Stern said.
â€œOur best salespeople are the girls themselves,â€� Sue Stern said. â€œThese are girls who tell their story and are so successful and grateful for the programs.â€�
Ralph Stern was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, and earned an MBA from Stanford University. He was the CEO of Denar, a manufacturer of devices to treat TMJ disorders, and he also started three companies: ELPower batteries, Steri-Oss, which made dental implants, and CareCredit patient financing. After selling these companies, Stern acquired Paulâ€™s TV. Sue Stern was born and raised in Cincinnati and moved to Los Angeles after graduating from the University of Wisconsin. She later moved to Orange County and became a supporter of various youth programs including the Childrenâ€™s Home Society of California and Santa Ana Auxiliary.
In 2000, the couple made a seven-figure donation to Chapman University to endow a permanent chair in Holocaust education, allowing Chapman to continue teaching about the Holocaust and to develop a resource center for Holocaust education in Orange County. At the time, Ralph Stern was active in Project No Gangs and Drug Use Is Life Abuse, and the couple were supporters of Jewish organizations.
Ralph Stern was president of the Jewish Community Foundation of Orange County and he also led the effort in 2004 to expand a day school and the Jewish Community Center, raising $70 million, hiring the architect and supervising construction. Sue Stern was focused then on helping the Childrenâ€™s Home Society and she was a board member of South Coast Repertory. They also donated to Jewish day schools in Orange County and Hillel at Chapman. Supporting Holocaust education was a personal mission for Ralph Stern. His uncleâ€™s family in Holland perished in the Holocaust and his parents had to flee their home in Germany in 1936.
In 2014, the Sterns focused their philanthropy on healthcare, donating close to $7 million to UC Irvine and establishing the Sue and Ralph Stern Center for Cancer Clinical Trials and Research at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, which is part of UCI Health. The gift enhanced UCIâ€™s involvement in cancer research and increased the ability of UCI cancer specialists to sponsor clinical trials, which test the safety and effectiveness of potentially new treatments.
UCI Health is where Sue Stern was successfully treated for a spinal cord tumor. The Sterns also have donated to other researchers at UCI studying malignant spinal cord and brain tumors as well as cancers. They further served on the advisory boards of both UCI Health and the Samueli College of Health Sciences, focused on integrative health. In 2016, the Sterns were honored with the UCI Health Hero Award.
The Sterns also funded a community center in Uganda, Sue Stern is a trustee emeritus at South Coast Repertory and Ralph Stern is involved with Brandman University as a member of the Board of Regents, and the Young Presidentsâ€™ Organization.
Their generosity extends to patients and staff at CHOC Childrenâ€™s Hospital, where the couple established a medical clowning program in 2015 that brings medically trained clowns to CHOC twice a week, delighting the patients as well as their families, the doctors and nurses. Itâ€™s a program the couple continues to fund today and a program that brings much joy to many people â€” a goal that makes the clowning program so worthwhile and which the couple plans to continue supporting in the future.
“It just puts such smiles on their faces,” Sue Stern said. “Itâ€™s very rewarding.â€�