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Major Donor Profile: Mel & Enid Zuckerman

Zuckerman Family Foundation

Mel and Enid Zuckerman

The vision for this college was that it would have a national presence in the area of health education and health promotion. Our purpose is to try to get people to see health and prevention as an individual empowerment.

The importance of making gifts perhaps can best be illustrated by the story of our largest benefactors and namesakes of our College, Mel and Enid Zuckerman, founders of Canyon Ranch. Former UA President Peter Likins once said of the Zuckermans, “they don't just talk about healthy lifestyles. They live them.”

“Even as our knowledge (of health) increases, people aren't learning what they need in order to take care of themselves,” Likins continued, “That's what Mel and Enid are all about. They understand the importance of good health. They've been doing that for many years.”

At age 40, Mel Zuckerman was told that his health risks were equivalent to those of a 65-year-old man. He was 40 pounds overweight, had acute asthma, did not exercise, and ate all the wrong things. But the somber announcement from his doctor did not sink in until almost a decade later when Zuckerman’s father died of lung cancer. “I watched my father hang his head in his hands and say over and over again, ‘If only I had listened to my doctors’ and ‘If only I had done this or that,’” Zuckerman said. “This was a true wake-up call for me.”

At the time, Zuckerman was a builder and real estate developer in Tucson. “I was just an out-of-shape, very unhealthy person,” he said. “I had no sense that there was anything I could do about it or that lifestyle could make a difference.” After his father’s death, however, Zuckerman decided to go to California and spend four weeks at a “fat farm,” a place that fed guests deprivation diets of 700 to 800 calories a day and encouraged them to exercise.

“I ended up having this incredible transformational experience,” Zuckerman said. “By the time I got home, I was not only 29 pounds lighter but I also was jogging three miles a day.” During his last week at the facility, Zuckerman called Enid and told her that when he returned to Arizona, he wanted to continue the healthier lifestyle and he asked her to fly out and join him to see what he was talking about. “I had never felt so good in my life,” he said.

When they returned to Tucson, they bought the Double U Ranch with the intention of reaching their new goal. “So 20 months and eight days later, we opened a place called Canyon Ranch,” he said. “(It was) a place where not only Enid and I could live a healthy lifestyle, but where we could also teach other people to do the same thing.” Although both were excited about the prospects of this new life and business opportunity, they also realized that they had little expertise in the area. That is when the relationship between Canyon Ranch and the University started.

After Zuckerman formed a friendship with James E. Dalen, MD, former vice president of health sciences and dean of the UA College of Medicine, the two discussed the possibility of creating a college of public health. “This was Dr. Dalen's dream and he was asking me to support it.” In 1997, the Zuckerman’s agreed to donate $10 million to the UA Foundation, paving the way to the establishment of a College of Public Health at the UA. “The vision for this college was that it would have a national presence in the area of health education and health promotion,” said Zuckerman, who sits on the college’s advisory board. “Our purpose is to try to get people to see health and prevention as an individual empowerment.”

The Zuckerman’s financial commitment to the College aims to bring their mission to all people. “It’s always been our priority to reach out to the underserved population,” Zuckerman said. “Individual and collective health should be one of our top concerns. Since the 20th century was gracious enough to add about 30 years to the average lifespan in this country, I would hope that people would address the quality of those extra years. I don't personally think that anybody looks forward to living a longer number of years if they are going to be frail, decrepit and without all their senses. Individuals who can support this public health cause are adding to the potential of human well-being.”

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