By Christina Boufis
In most real estate transactions in San Francisco, the buyers and sellers part ways after a few weeks or months, ending their brief relationship with a metaphorical handshake—never to cross paths again. But that’s not the case with Melanie and Richard Lundquist, the former owners of the building that houses the new downtown campus at 155 Fifth Street. Richard’s company, Continental Development Corporation, is a commercial real estate development and management company headquartered in El Segundo, California, The Lundquists are not only neighbors—they own the InterContinental San Francisco hotel next door—but also donors and philanthropists. What’s more, “We’re part of the Dugoni School of Dentistry family,” says Richard Lundquist, “and it’s a great feeling.”
How that relationship came to be speaks volumes about the dental school, its administration, deans, president, students, alumni, the humanistic philosophy that underlies the core of the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, and the Lundquists, who were recently named the 38th most generous philanthropists in the United States for 2013.
Although he had no intention of selling the building at 155 Fifth Street when the previous tenant moved out, Richard agreed to the University’s offer to buy the building for the new downtown campus. When the building was still in escrow, Melanie recalls her husband saying he would like to visit the Stockton campus to get to know the president, Pamela Eibeck, and meet the new buyers. Melanie also had friends who had attended University of the Pacific and she had heard how lovely the campus is, so the couple flew up for a visit.
[pullquote]“What captured our hearts was not only the philosophy of the school and how it treats its students, but most importantly how the school treats its patients, particularly those in need.”[/pullquote]
After touring the Stockton campus and meeting with President Eibeck as well as spending a significant amount of time with others associated with the University, “We found that we were really aligned with their vision and focus on providing a quality education,” says Richard. “The University encompassed a wonderful group of people, from the president of the University to the dean to the alumni. We felt they were doing great things, and we wanted to be part of it.”
Fast forward to a fundraising dinner for the dental school, hosted by Melanie and Richard, at their Palos Verdes, California, home. Though the couple had not discussed making a donation to the school, something clicked for them that night. “Everything was so heartfelt and inspiring,” says Melanie. “Richard and I looked at each other from the two ends of the table and I whispered, ‘Should we make a gift?’ I read his lips and he said ‘Yes’ and smiled.” That night, “this amazing couple made a starting gift of $1 million to the dental school,” said Jeff Rhode, associate dean for Development, “and then thanked us for the opportunity.”
The heartfelt feeling is mutual. “Melanie and Richard Lundquist are great friends of the dental school, and I personally consider them good friends,” says Dean Patrick J. Ferrillo, Jr. “They’re just extraordinary people and I admire them for their commitment towards philanthropy. Their desire to make people’s lives better is really commendable. They’re just passionate about it and they want nothing in return.”
The Lundquists’ interest in helping communities thrive is also seen in the mission statement of the Continental Development Corporation, which aims “to develop and build projects of the highest quality and to actively support measures which contribute to the quality of life in the communities in which we do business.”
Both Melanie and Richard are aligned in their philanthropy, and, knowing that Dugoni School of Dentistry students go out into the community and treat the underserved—many of whom cannot afford dental care—struck a chord with this couple. “What captured our hearts,” says Melanie, “was not only the philosophy of the school and how it treats its students, but most importantly how the school treats its patients, particularly those in need.” Richard adds, “Now they’re going to be in a location that’s so much more convenient for all those who are underserved to get quality dental care.”
For instance, Dugoni School of Dentistry students and faculty members participate in service projects, such as providing free basic care and complex treatment to the homeless in partnership with San Francisco’s Project Homeless Connect, several times a year. Dental students run a volunteer organization, Student Community Outreach for Public Education (SCOPE), dedicated to improving the oral health of all people in the community. “What our students accomplish is incredibly impressive,” says Dean Ferrillo. “They do so much in the community through various organizations, such as Senior Smiles and Project Homeless Connect. Our students are not required to volunteer in order to graduate but they choose to participate and make a difference.” Students, faculty and staff also host various Give Kids a Smile Day outreach events at several locations where they provide free dental check-ups and oral health screenings to underserved children.
As one of the leading philanthropists in Southern California and a founding member of the board of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools who is very active in K-12 public education and transformation, Melanie knows that far too many children are absent from school due to dental problems and a lack of access to dental care.
[pullquote]“Most organizations are always thanking their donors, and that’s very much appreciated. However, let me thank the Pacific Dugoni community for being who they are. We just do the easy part: writing a check. They’re doing the heavy lifting. And Richard and I could not be more proud of the rebirth and repurposing of the building.” [/pullquote]
“One of the things I love about Pacific Dugoni is that the school wants to make sure they’re creating not just great dentists—knowing how to place a crown or fill a cavity—but also helping to create caring and great human beings. Philosophically, they are where we are and we are where they are. And, I love the fact that the students are out there in the community serving the much less fortunate,” she says.
“The great thing is that we’re on the same page as Melanie and Richard,” says Dean Ferrillo. “We both understand the problem—the need for access to good oral health care, and we both want to do something about the problem.”
Melanie comes from a family that gives back to the community. Her mother attended USC in the 1920s and joined a sorority with the purpose of raising funds to establish a dental clinic for children in poverty in Los Angeles. “That was something she really wanted to do,” explains Melanie. “And I think part of what resonated with me with the dental school is its attitude of helping people.”
Melanie’s grandfather, an immigrant to the United States, was part of the Los Angeles Merchant’s Society, which later became City of Hope, one of the premier cancer treatment centers in the world. “I always say philanthropy is the rent we pay for the air we breathe,” says Melanie.
The repurposing of 155 Fifth Street, from a data processing center to a dental school that will be able to serve more people in the Bay Area who need quality dental care, has made both Melanie and Richard very proud. “I think they’ve done an absolutely fabulous job redeveloping the building,” says Richard. “And it will be a showplace in town. They have all the state-of-the-art technology that will attract students and attention to the University.”
“We consider it a privilege when somebody does something so well that it gives us the opportunity to give back in a way that makes us proud. It allows us to help make a difference in people’s lives,” says Melanie. “The dental school has given us that opportunity, and we’re very grateful. Most organizations are always thanking their donors, and that’s very much appreciated. However, let me thank the Pacific Dugoni community for being who they are. We just do the easy part: writing a check. They’re doing the heavy lifting. And Richard and I could not be more proud of the rebirth and repurposing of the building.”
And on being members of the Dugoni School of Dentistry family? “Everyone openly embraces you and welcomes you to this family, and that shows you that they are deeply caring people,” says Melanie. “We’re not dentists and we really have no direct ties to the school, but we’ve been made to feel a real part of the family,” adds Richard. “We can’t wait to see the new school in operation in a few months. I think it’s going to be a fantastic addition to the San Francisco community.”
Eric K. Curtis ’85, DDS, MA, of Safford, Arizona, is a contributor to Contact Point and is the author of A Century of Smiles, a historical book covering the dental school’s first 100 years.