California family makes major gift to "Far Above …" campaign

"It's an extraordinary institution that does very special work."
Monday, September 8, 2008

Jonathan Dolgen ILR '66 will be the first to tell you that life has been good to him.

He went from Queens to Cornell to New York University Law School to Wall Street to Los Angeles, brokering some of Hollywood's biggest deals.  When "Titanic," "Braveheart" and "Forrest Gump" triumphed at the Academy Awards, Dolgen was a member of the winning teams.

Ithaca is where it all started. "It hadn't occurred to me, before I went to Cornell, that everything is possible," Dolgen said. "If I could compete and thrive here, I would be able to compete and thrive anywhere," he said. "It's one of our favorite places in the world and we've been a lot of places."

Dolgen returns to Ithaca Sept. 13.  Dolgen Hall, formerly the ILR Extension Building, will be named in honor of Susan and Jonathan Dolgen's commitment to the school. 

The Dolgens' generosity has been felt across Cornell for many years through support for the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art and the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts and the establishment of the Dolgen Family Scholarship.  Several years ago, the Abe Dolgen Labor Education Suite in the ILR Research Building was named in honor of another gift from the Dolgen family.  Jonathan Dolgen's father, Abe Dolgen, was a vice president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

The family's recent gift, through "Far Above … The Campaign for Cornell," is among the largest in ILR history and will support program activities across the school.

Harry Katz, the Kenneth F. Kahn Dean and Jack Sheinkman Professor, Cornell University ILR School, said, "Jonathan Dolgen, his wife Susan, and their daughters, Tamar and Lauren, have generously continued with Cornell their long-standing commitment to education.  With great respect, Cornell accepts this gift."

"We've been very lucky," Jonathan Dolgen said. "We love Cornell and we're doing this now to say 'thank you.' It's an extraordinary institution that does very special work," said Dolgen, a former chairman and CEO of Viacom Entertainment Group.

At Viacom, he oversaw the operations of the Paramount Motion Picture Group, Paramount Television Production, Simon & Shuster and other divisions.

Dolgen began his career as a Wall Street lawyer. He went on to executive positions at Columbia Pictures Industries, Fox Inc., Twentieth Century Television and Sony Pictures Entertainment.  As principal of Wood River Ventures, he is a private investor and consultant.

Supporting the arts and education has been a constant for Dolgen throughout his career and marriage to Susan Dolgen, who describes their volunteer work and philanthropy in education as "a theme throughout our lives.  It's part of what we believe in. Through education, you can transform yourself and the world"

"Jon always felt like Cornell gave him opportunities and opened the world to him … We had decided years ago to give to Cornell," Susan Dolgen said. "It was a question of timing.  We didn’t know when."

Susan Dolgen taught high school history for 10 years and is chair of the California State Summer School for the Arts Board of Directors. She is also a trustee of Pitzer College.  A graduate of Queens College and the MBA program at Adelphi University, she worked in marketing for Max Factor and Revlon.

Jonathan Dolgen is a trustee and member of the Claremont University Center and Graduate School Board of Fellows. He is a trustee of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and a recipient of its Humanitarian Award.

On Sept. 13, the Dolgens will gather at the corner of Tower Road and Garden Avenue with numerous family members, including daughters Tamar, Arts & Sciences '93, and Lauren, and the Dolgens' son-in-law, Sergio Bicas.  The Dolgens' two grandchildren will also attend.  Rose Abby is three years old and Moises Guillermo is three months old.